Two Syrians walk along a fence near the Turkish-Syrian border in Gaziantep province, Turkey, November 30, 2016. Syrians who arrived in Turkey since late 2017 have been unable to register for temporary protection and receive basic services.

© 2016 Umit Bektas/Reuters
(Istanbul) – Turkish authorities in Istanbul and nine provinces on or near the Syrian border have stopped registering all but a handful of recently arrived Syrian asylum seekers. The suspension is leading to unlawful deportations, coerced returns to Syria, and the denial of health care and education.

The European Commission has recently praised Turkey’s asylum system and plans to release the second batch of €3 billion under its March 2016 migration deal which includes support for refugees in Turkey. European Union institutions and governments have stayed publicly silent on the suspension and other refugee abuses committed by Turkey, suggesting their primary concern is to halt the movement of asylum seekers and migrants from Turkey to the EU.

“While the EU supports Turkey to deter asylum seekers from reaching Europe, it’s turning a blind eye to Turkey’s latest steps to block and discourage people fleeing Syria,” said Gerry Simpson, associate refugee program director at Human Rights Watch. “But forcing Syrians who manage to get past Turkey’s border guards to live in legal limbo only risks driving them underground and onward to the EU.”

Syrian refugees queue for food aid in Gaziantep, Turkey on May 20, 2016. Turkey’s suspension of Syrian refugee registration blocks them from receiving such aid.

© 2016 Kyodo/ AP Images
The suspension of registration is Turkey’s latest effort to deny new asylum seekers protection. Over the past three years, Turkey has sealed off its border with Syria, while Turkish border guards continue to carry out mass summary pushbacks and to kill and injure Syrians as they try to cross.

Between early 2011 and the end of May 2018, Turkey had registered almost 3.6 million Syrians, making it the world’s largest refugee hosting country. That generosity does not absolve it, or its international partners, of the duty to help newly arrived asylum seekers, Human Rights Watch said. 

In mid-May 2018, Human Rights Watch interviewed 32 Syrians in Turkey’s Hatay province about their attempts to register for a temporary protection permit in Hatay, Gaziantep, and Istanbul provinces. A permit protects Syrians from arrest and the risk of deportation. It also entitles them to get health care and education, to work, and to seek social assistance, including the EU-funded Emergency Social Safety Net for the most vulnerable Syrians.

Syrians said Turkish police deported them in groups of up to 20 people for not having a permit and that hospitals and schools refused to take them in without permits. Some said they returned to Syria so they, or their relatives, could get urgent medical care. Others said they decided to return to Syria because only some family members had been able to register. All said, they lived in constant fear of arrest and deportation and severely restricted their movement to avoid the police.

Turkey is bound by the international customary law rule of nonrefoulement, which prohibits the return of anyone in any manner whatsoever to a place where they would face a real risk of persecution, torture or other ill-treatment, or a threat to life. This includes asylum seekers, who are entitled to have their claims fairly adjudicated and not be summarily returned to places where they fear harm. Turkey may not coerce people into returning to places where they face harm by denying them legal status or access to essential services.

On October 30, 2017, the Hatay governor’s office said that to discourage smugglers from helping Syrians enter Turkey through Hatay, the province would no longer register newly arriving Syrians for temporary protection permits. In early February 2018, Turkey’s Interior Ministry said Istanbul province would also no longer register Syrians.

Eight other provinces on or near the Syrian border have also suspended registration for newly arriving Syrians since late 2017 or early 2018, according to three agencies working closely with Syrian refugees, as well as a European Commission official and a Turkish public official who previously worked on migration issues. The provinces are Adana, Gaziantep, Kahramanmaraş, Kilis, Mardin, Mersin, Osmaniye, and Şanlıurfa.

Share

© 2018 DigitalGlobe and © 2018 Human Rights Watch

Since late August 2015, only registered Syrians who obtain a special travel permit have been allowed to travel within Turkey. In practice, the vast majority of Syrian asylum seekers enter Turkey irregularly through the few remaining gaps in Turkey’s border wall in Hatay province. Blocked from registering there, they are unable to lawfully leave Hatay province and travel to other provinces where registration has not been closed. This forces them to live illegally in Hatay province, or to use smugglers to reach other parts of Turkey, risking arrest and deportation.

According to three confidential sources, Turkey has rejected proposals for a new system that would allow Syrians arriving in Hatay, and to a far lesser extent in other border provinces, to register in other parts of Turkey where fewer refugees live.

Refugee agencies told Human Rights Watch that Turkey’s strict controls on international and local refugee agencies prevent them from finding and helping unregistered Syrians. This lack of aid agency monitoring means that there are no statistics or estimates on the numbers of Syrians denied registration, deported, or refused urgently needed services.

In response to a June 13 letter presenting the Human Rights Watch findings, the migration authorities in Ankara denied that any of the country’s 81 provinces, including Hatay and Istanbul, had suspended registration of Syrians. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) told Human Rights Watch that as of mid-May, the authorities had reassured them that registration of Syrians was ongoing, including in Hatay and Istanbul. Other aid agencies that support refugees say that the authorities in the 10 provinces have only continued to process Syrians pre-registered at the time of the suspension, and to register urgent medical cases referred from Syria and babies born to registered Syrians in Turkey. Two refugee aid agencies also said that in some cases they have managed to convince the authorities in Hatay and Osmaniye provinces to register particularly vulnerable unregistered Syrians.

In early 2018, the authorities in Hatay opened a new registration center in Antakya. Representatives of three aid agencies and two Turkish security personnel working in Antakya said the center is exclusively for unregistered Syrians to request help to return to Syria, while registered Syrians can request help to return at other migration authority-run centers.

Turkey does not allow any independent monitoring of whether unregistered Syrians signing up for return are in fact returning voluntarily or whether they are effectively being coerced. In contrast, Turkey does allow independent monitoring of some registered Syrians’ decision to return to Syria.

Turkey should protect the basic rights of all newly arriving Syrians, regardless of registration status, and register those denied registration since late 2017. The European Commission and EU member states with embassies in Turkey should support Turkey to register and protect Syrians and press Turkey to allow all agencies working for refugees to freely assist and help protect all Syrians, including all unregistered Syrians.

“Unregistered Syrians in Turkey may be conveniently out of sight, but they shouldn’t be out of mind,” Simpson said. “EU states and the commission should speak up and support all Syrians in Turkey, not just those who got in before Turkey started driving them underground.”

For more details about Turkey’s suspension of Syrian asylum seeker registration, please see below.

Asylum Seeker Registration

The first Syrian refugees fled to Turkey in early 2011 and in the subsequent three-and-a-half years, Turkey adopted an ad hoc approach to their registration, without conferring a clear legal status with related rights. Although Turkey ratified the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, the country maintains a geographical limitation that excludes anyone not originally from a European country from full refugee recognition. That means it does not fully grant asylum to people fleeing violence or persecution in Syria and any other non-European country.

In 2013, Turkey adopted its own legal framework on the protection of asylum seekers and refugees. In October 2014, Turkey also adopted a regulation under which it grants Syrians temporary protection. As of June 28, 2018, Turkey said it had registered 3,562,523 people under the regulation. Registered Syrians are entitled to assistance. Even though the regulation says Syrians who fail to register will not be deported to Syria and will only face an “administrative fine,” Human Rights Watch found that unregistered Syrians have been deported for not having temporary protection permits.

The Hatay governor’s office and the interior minister said registration has been suspended for newly arriving Syrians in Hatay and Istanbul. Refugee aid agencies and Syrians in Hatay’s main city, Antakya, told Human Rights Watch that police carried out mass arrests of Syrians in November and early December, just after registration was suspended.

Five sources told Human Rights Watch that since late 2017 and early 2018, migration authorities in eight other border provinces followed suit and turned away all newly arriving Syrians seeking registration.

As of June 28, seven of the provinces that suspended registration were in the top 10 provinces hosting Syrians: Adana, Gaziantep, Hatay, Istanbul, Kilis, Mersin, and Şanlıurfa. Together they were sheltering 2,422,804 registered Syrians, or 68 percent of the total in Turkey. The other three – Kahramanmaraş, Mardin, and Osmaniye – were sheltering 235,549, or just under seven percent.

Aid agencies say that, in practice, the authorities in affected provinces continued to process Syrians pre-registered at the time of the suspension and to register people with urgent medical needs referred from Syria. They also continued to register babies born to registered Syrians in Turkey, an estimated 306 each day. Agencies with first-hand knowledge of the suspension of registration in the 10 provinces say the registration of these Syrians may explain the claim authorities made to Human Rights Watch that eight of the provinces on or near the border registered a total of 116,059 Syrians between November 1 and June 20.

One refugee aid agency with close knowledge of registration procedures in all of Turkey’s provinces told Human Rights Watch that in a few exceptional cases, authorities in Hatay and Osmaniye province have registered children in urgent need of medical care, together with one caregiver. Another refugee assistance agency that sometimes deals with unregistered Syrians said that between late 2017 and late April 2018, it had convinced the Hatay authorities to register a few dozen newly arrived Syrians on an exceptional basis because they had specific needs, but that even then it was a “headache” to get them through police checkpoints to registration offices. Agencies estimate that as of mid-May, the total number of such vulnerable cases of unregistered Syrians whom the authorities have registered on an exceptional basis was in the low hundreds.

Turkey’s travel permit system for registered Syrians prohibits unregistered Syrians from traveling from border provinces to register elsewhere. Seven Syrians told Human Rights Watch they paid smugglers to drive them from Antakya, in Hatay province, to Istanbul to register. But security officials at migration authority offices in Istanbul told them registration had been suspended for newly arriving Syrians.

UNHCR and some diplomats in Turkey told Human Rights Watch they have been encouraging Turkey’s Directorate General for Migration Management to adopt a referral system under which authorities in Hatay, or other border provinces where Syrians first arrive, would pre-register Syrians and then refer them to other provinces where fewer Syrians live to register. Some EU member states have proposed that if such a system were to be adopted, the EU should help support job-creation for Syrians and Turkish citizens in the provinces to which Syrians are referred. But all attempts to convince Turkey to set up a referral system have failed.

Consequences of Suspended Registration

In mid-May 2018, Human Rights Watch interviewed 32 Syrian asylum seekers in Antakya, the capital of Hatay Province, and the first city most Syrians reach after being smuggled across the closed Turkish border. They said the authorities in Antakya, the nearby town of Reyhanli, and in Gaziantep province had refused to register them during the first few months of 2018. They also described how not having a temporary protection permit – or “kimlik,” as it is popularly called (a Turkish shorthand for identification card) – had affected them. Human Rights Watch explained the purpose of the interviews, gave assurances of anonymity, and obtained interviewees’ consent to describe their experiences.

All said they were turned away from registration offices at least twice. Only three said they managed to register after brokers bribed registration officials between US$300 and $500.

Most said officials simply said “no more kimliks here” or “no one gets a kimlik” and told them to leave. Two said they also tried to register in Gaziantep in April, but that saw a sign on the office that said “no kimliks.”

Four said that only some members of their family had been registered, leaving the rest in legal limbo and that as a result, the entire family was contemplating returning to Syria. One man said his sick wife was given permission to enter Turkey for emergency medical treatment in Antakya, and was allowed to register there, together with their newborn baby. When he and their five other children, aged 6 to 14, managed to enter Turkey and tried to register in Antakya, they were turned away.

Three Syrians said that Turkish police had previously summarily deported them to Syria for not having a temporary protection permit. One, a 22-year-old man from Aleppo governorate, said he entered Turkey in early April and was refused registration in Antakya. In early May, he said, police stopped him at about 8 a.m. near the Antakya bus station and asked for his permit. When he said he tried to register, but had been turned away, the police drove him to a local police station, recorded his personal details, and then drove him and about 20 other unregistered Syrians to the Bab al-Hawa border crossing and deported them. He said 15 of the 20 told him they had been caught without temporary protection permits in Istanbul and the other five said they had just entered Turkey a few days earlier and were arrested after arriving at a smuggler’s house in Antakya. A few days later, he managed to return to Turkey with smugglers.

Another former deportee, a 28-year-old man from Idlib, said he and his brother entered Turkey together in January and were denied registration in Antakya. He said his brother traveled with a smuggler to Istanbul to find work there, but Turkish police arrested him on May 17 and the next day, took him to the Bab al-Hawa border crossing and deported him.

On May 22, Human Rights Watch spoke to a 31-year-old man from Hama who said the authorities in Antakya had arrested his brother a few hours earlier, were holding him in the new center for unregistered Syrians to sign up to return to Syria, and said they were about to deport him. Human Rights Watch alerted UNHCR, which intervened and prevented the deportation.

Human Rights Watch interviewed four Syrians at the newly established center for unregistered Syrians who wish to sign up for return to Syria. They decided to go back because their relatives had been denied urgent medical care, or because some family members who arrived after registration was suspended could not register.

Two Syrians said they heard from other Syrians in Antakya about many cases in which the wives of men who had been deported told Turkish authorities they planned to go back to Syria because they and their children could not survive alone in Turkey.

All of the 29 other unregistered Syrians interviewed said they lived in constant fear of arrest and deportation and said they heard of many cases involving the deportation of unregistered Syrians. Eight said they reduced their movements to a minimum, often staying at home for days at a time. A 17-year-old boy who said he never left his uncle’s house in Antakya out of fear of arrest said “this feels like prison.”

Three unregistered Syrians said they regularly use Syrian-owned driving services which use back roads to avoid police checkpoints or informal police stop-and-search patrols in Antakya.

Nine said they attempted to get medical treatment in clinics and hospitals in Antakya, but had been refused treatment because they were not registered. Four others said they did not even try to access medical care, because they heard others were turned away, and because they were afraid local hospitals would call the police to arrest them for not having a permit.

A 27-year-old woman from Idlib province seeking cancer treatment said two hospitals in Antakya refused to treat her because she did not have a permit.

A 34-year-old, eight months’ pregnant woman from Aleppo, with four children all born by caesarean section, said she was too afraid to go to the local hospital to ask for a checkup and prepare for her delivery, because she had been told hospitals turn away unregistered Syrians and was afraid of being arrested and returned to Syria.

Similarly, a 31-year-old woman whose entire family was refused registration in March said her husband was extremely sick with a serious lung condition, but he would not go to a hospital out of fear of being arrested and deported. She said he never left the house and lived in constant fear of being discovered.

A nongovernmental organization working with Syrians in Hatay province said that during the first few months of 2018, they heard of dozens of cases of Syrians in Antakya seeking emergency medical care, many of them pregnant women, who were turned away by hospitals because they had been denied registration.

Six Syrians interviewed by Human Rights Watch said their children were unable to go to school, because schools would only take registered Syrians.

Nowhere to Turn for Help

The Turkish authorities consider Syrians denied registration to be in the country unlawfully. Nongovernmental groups working with refugees said the government only allows them to work with lawfully present asylum seekers and refugees.

Six organizations working with refugees in Turkey’s provinces on the Syrian border – which asked to remain anonymous for the staff’s security – said Turkey strictly controls and monitors their work in various ways.

Some said they must get special permission to assess registered Syrians’ assistance needs or to visit registered Syrians’ homes, in some cases in the presence of staff from the Ministry of Family and Social Policies. The agencies said the rules are applied in an ad hoc and unpredictable way, depending on the local authorities, and they are never certain of what refugee outreach activities are allowed.

As a result, they said, they found it difficult to identify Syrians blocked from registration procedures, including the most vulnerable, for example those in urgent need of medical or other care. They also said the situation in Hatay province – through which almost all newly arriving Syrians using smugglers enter the country due to continued gaps in the border wall – is particularly sensitive.

Because of the restrictions imposed by the Turkish authorities, aid agencies said they cannot proactively identify unregistered Syrian refugees. At best, they can only react if they are made aware of unregistered Syrians who are seeking help, or if they come across them by chance. They said they sometimes raise the most vulnerable of such cases with the authorities in the hope that they will allow those in urgent need to register.

One agency working in the border areas said: “It’s very simple, we can’t just reach out to registered or unregistered Syrians. We need approval for everything and we’d never get approval to help unregistered Syrians.” Another agency worker said: “We have repeatedly asked the authorities for permission to do protection outreach work, but we’ve been refused every time.”

Agencies said their extremely limited contact with unregistered Syrians means they can neither estimate how many unregistered Syrians now live in Hatay and other provinces, nor the extent to which the registration suspension has led to deportation and denial of service access. EU member states and other donors funding Syrian refugee assistance and protection projects in Turkey therefore don’t know the extent to which Turkey’s registration suspension is excluding Syrians from receiving help.

European Union Remains Silent

EU member states and the European Commission have remained publicly silent on Turkey’s registration suspension, as they have on Turkey’s long-standing abuses against Syrian asylum seekers at the border.

Turkey’s suspension of registration could drive many Syrians underground and onward to the EU, or coerce them into going back to Syria. The suspension, Turkey’s ongoing border abuses, and its recent abuses against Afghan asylum seekers means that any attempts to return Syrians from Greece to Turkey is also likely to be met with significant resistance by lawyers challenging return attempts on the grounds that Turkey is not a safe third country to which to return asylum seekers.

On April 17, the European Commission released its latest update on whether Turkey is meeting the EU’s criteria for becoming an EU member state. As part of its assessment of Turkey’s asylum system, the commission said: “There have been reports of alleged expulsions, returns and deportations of Syrian nationals, in contradiction of the non-refoulement principle,” without going into any further details or citing the sources.

In March, the European Commission promised to release the second batch of €3 billion under its March 2016 deal with Turkey. Under the deal, the EU maintains that Turkey is a safe country to which to return Syrian asylum seekers. In fact, Turkey does not meet the EU safe third country criteria.

Recommendations

Turkey should resume temporary protection registration for all newly arriving Syrians and register those denied access to registration since late 2017. If necessary, Turkey should pre-register Syrians in its provinces on the Syrian border and require Syrians to move to, and live in, other provinces with fewer Syrians. In the meantime, Turkey should instruct all medical facilities to provide emergency medical treatment to any Syrian in need, regardless of registration status. Schools should also take in Syrian children pending their registration. All Turkish public officials should refer unregistered Syrians to the nearest registration center.

Turkey should also allow all refugee agencies working with Syrians to actively work to identify unregistered Syrians, help them access registration procedures, and raise with the authorities all cases of unregistered Syrians deported to Syria or denied access to health care and education.

To help ensure protection for Syrians in Turkey, the European Commission and EU member states with embassies in Turkey should press Turkey to resume registration of all newly arriving Syrians and guarantee their access to health care and education in line with existing policies. If Turkey requires help to resume registration, they should respond generously. They should also press Turkey to allow all agencies working with refugees to freely carry out protection monitoring work throughout Turkey to identify and assist unregistered Syrians and to publicly report on any abuses, including forced return to Syria, and denial of assistance.

Finally, the European Commission should proactively seek information and publicly report on credible accounts of killings, injuries, and mass deportations by Turkish security forces at the Syrian border, including in its regular reports on Turkey’s accession process and the European Agenda on Migration.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am
 
Video

France: Migrant Kids Left to Sleep in the Street

Child protection authorities in Paris are using flawed age assessment procedures for unaccompanied migrant youths, excluding many from care they need and are entitled to. Hundreds of unaccompanied children sleep on the streets of Paris each night, according to estimates from lawyers and nongovernmental organizations.

(Paris) – Child protection authorities in Paris are using flawed age assessment procedures for unaccompanied migrant children, excluding many from care they need and are entitled to, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Hundreds of these young migrants find themselves homeless, often condemned to sleep on the streets of Paris.

The 57-page report, “‘Like a Lottery’: Arbitrary Treatment of Unaccompanied Migrant Children in Paris”, found that arbitrary practices can lead to unaccompanied children being erroneously considered adults, leaving then ineligible for emergency shelter and other protection given to children. Many youths who request protection from the child welfare system are turned away summarily and inaccurately, based on appearance alone. Others are rejected without written decisions after interviews lasting as little as five minutes, contrary to French regulations.
 

“These children have suffered through incredibly difficult and dangerous journeys, only to be deprived of the protection and care they need,” said Bénédicte Jeannerod, France director at Human Rights Watch. “Deeply flawed procedures mean that children may be arbitrarily turned away at the door of the evaluation office, denied protection after a short interview, or tied up in arduous court procedures and left in limbo for months.”

Human Rights Watch interviewed 49 unaccompanied children and reviewed age assessments in an additional 35 cases. Human Rights Watch also spoke with lawyers, health care providers, staff and volunteers of humanitarian agencies and informal associations, and government officials.

Youths who receive full interviews are often denied recognition as children if they lack identity documents, Human Rights Watch found. But international standards and French regulations establish that the primary method of establishing approximate age should be through interviews, recognizing that documents may be lost during arduous journeys.

Even those who have documents are frequently rejected. Child welfare authorities and judges question birth certificates, passports, and other identity documents despite the rule in French law that such documents are presumptively valid unless there are substantiated reasons to believe otherwise.

The review of case files found other invalid grounds for concluding that a person was an adult. Work in the home country or on the journey to Europe was frequently cited, even though millions of children around the world work, including in hazardous or harmful forms of labor. Child protection authorities also often cited the youth’s decision to travel without parents, though many thousands of children travel on their own to Europe each year.

In other cases, examiners told youths from French-speaking countries that they spoke French too well. Imrane O., from Côte d’Ivoire, who gave his age as 15, told Human Rights Watch that his examiner “said that I was answering her questions too well. Because I could answer her questions, I couldn’t be a minor. How is that? I did eight years of schooling, in French. Of course I could answer her questions.”

In the cases studied, child protection authorities also frequently relied on subjective factors such as “bearing” or comportment. Some youths received adverse age assessments based in part on expressing irritation with repeated questioning or presenting their case forcefully, behaviors that can be exhibited at any age. Many more were simply told they had the bearing of an adult, without further explanation.

When children seek review of adverse decisions, some judges regularly order bone tests to determine their age. Medical bodies in France and elsewhere have repeatedly found that bone and other medical examinations are not a reliable means of determining age, particularly for older adolescents, and have called for ending their use.

The cumulative effect of arbitrary decision-making is that age assessments in Paris are “like a lottery: sometimes you win, but most of the time you lose, even if you’re underage,” an aid worker with the nongovernmental organization Utopia 56 told Human Rights Watch.

The number of unaccompanied migrant children arriving in Paris, as well as in France overall, has increased in recent years. France’s child welfare system took just under 15,000 unaccompanied migrant children into care in 2017. Nearly half of unaccompanied children who seek protection from the child welfare system in France do so in Paris. In February 2018, when Human Rights Watch began this research, an estimated 400 unaccompanied children were “sleeping rough” (outside) in the French capital, , according to estimates from lawyers and nongovernmental organizations. Current estimates are lower.

Ordinary citizens, on their own and in groups, have stepped in to address some of these children’s needs, providing food and other services, organizing football clubs, improvisational theatre, and other activities, and in some cases opening their homes to give children a place to stay for a night or two, or even longer.

But these laudable efforts, along with services provided by nongovernmental groups such as Médécins sans Frontières and Utopia 56, depend on volunteers and cannot meet the need. In contrast, France has both the means and the obligation to provide appropriate care and protection to all children within French territory, regardless of migration status.

French national and departmental authorities should ensure that age assessments are used only when authorities have well-founded doubts about an individual’s claim to be under 18, Human Rights Watch said. In such cases, they should take appropriate steps to determine age and establish eligibility for services, bearing in mind that all age assessments will be estimates. These steps should include interviews by professionals with the expertise to work with children, as international standards recommend.

France also should end the use of bone tests and similar discredited medical examinations.

“Instead of giving youths the benefit of the doubt, as they should, child protection services seem to be doing everything they can to exclude youths from the child care system,” Jeannerod said. “The French authorities should immediately put an end to arbitrary age decisions and provide sufficient resources to take care of and protect unaccompanied migrant children.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

(New York) – The Afghan government is failing to protect tens of thousands of children, some as young as 5, from hazardous conditions in the workplace, in violation of Afghanistan’s labor laws.

Helal, 10, works as a brick maker at a brick kiln outside Kabul. He told Human Rights Watch that the brick mold is heavy and his hands hurt working with wet clay. Helal doesn’t go to school because he has to work. 

© 2016 Bethany Matta/Human Rights Watch

The 31-page report, “‘They Bear All the Pain’: Hazardous Child Labor in Afghanistan,” documents how child workers work dangerous jobs in Afghanistan’s carpet industry; as bonded labor in brick kilns; and as metal workers. They perform tasks that could result in illness, injury, or even death due to hazardous working conditions and poor enforcement of safety and health standards. Many children who work under those conditions combine the burdens of a job with school, or forego education altogether. Working compels many children in Afghanistan to leave school prematurely. Only half of children involved in child labor attend school. 

“Thousands of Afghan children risk their health and safety every day to put food on the family table,” said Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The Afghan government needs to do a better job of protecting its children – and the country’s future – by enforcing the law prohibiting dangerous work for children.”

Video

Video: Kids at Work, Out of School in Afghanistan

The Afghan government is failing to protect tens of thousands of children, some as young as 5, from hazardous conditions in the workplace, in violation of Afghanistan’s labor laws. 

The government has failed to enforce prohibitions against child labor in hazardous industries, and has stalled in its effort to overhaul its labor law to bring it into line with international standards, Human Rights Watch said. Government institutions responsible for enforcing the law often lack the capacity to inspect workplaces, with the result that children working in prohibited jobs go unnoticed and unprotected.

In 2014, the Afghan government published a list of 19 hazardous occupations prohibited for children. These jobs include carpet weaving, metal work, and brick making. While a lack of resources is an important factor in the persistence of child labor in hazardous industries, the Afghan government has also failed to enforce its labor laws through penalties for violators and a strategy to end exploitative labor conditions.

A brick kiln manager in Kabul told Human Rights Watch: “There are children here, starting from 10 years or 8 years of age to 15 or 16… They wake up at 3 in the morning and work until about evening… They complain of pain, but what can they do? The kids are here to make a living. They bear all the pain to do all the work.”

Extreme poverty often drives Afghan children into hazardous labor. Afghanistan remains one of the poorest countries in the world. Landlessness, illiteracy, high unemployment, and continuing armed conflict in much of the country are among the most important factors contributing to chronic poverty and, as a result, child labor.

A 13-year-old metal worker in Kabul said, “My fingers have been cut from the sharp edges of the metal and slammed by the hammer. My finger has also been caught in the trimming-beading machine. When your nail gets hit by a hammer or caught in the machine, it becomes black and eventually falls off.”

Thousands of Afghan children risk their health and safety every day to put food on the family table. The Afghan government needs to do a better job of protecting its children – and the country’s future – by enforcing the law prohibiting dangerous work for children.

Phelim Kine

Deputy Director, Asia Division

While work that is appropriate to a child’s age and under healthy and safe conditions can be beneficial to the child’s development and allow them to contribute to their family’s basic needs, work that interferes with a child’s education, or is likely to jeopardize their health or safety, is generally considered “child labor” and is prohibited under international law.

Although pilot projects extending community-based schools to reach vulnerable children have been promising, support for these schools is inadequate to the need. Eradicating child labor in Afghanistan is not feasible so long as extreme poverty continues, but the government and its donors can take steps to protect children from the risks associated with working in particularly dangerous or unhealthy conditions.

Those steps include increasing the number of labor inspectors to adequately cover the entire country; giving priority to monitoring hazardous sectors; and offering the Afghan government targeted technical assistance in devising and implementing policies, standards, and regulations against child labor. Both the government and its foreign donors should devote more resources to expanding educational support to all working children.

The government has a legal obligation under international law to take immediate action to eradicate hazardous child labor. Both Afghanistan and its foreign donors should take urgent steps to protect children from the risks associated with working in particularly dangerous or unhealthy conditions.

“When children are of legal age and work in safe conditions, they can help provide vital livelihood support for many Afghan families,” Kine said. “But the Afghan government has an obligation to enforce the laws that protect children in the workplace, and ensure that they neither have to sacrifice their education or safety as the price for supporting their families.”
 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Zama Neff is the executive director of the children's rights division of Human Rights Watch. She also co-chairs the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA). Neff has conducted fact-finding investigations and is the author of reports and articles on a range of issues affecting children, including access to education, police violence, refugee protection, the worst forms of child labor, and discrimination against women and girls. She has published on op-ed pages in major international and US publications and speaks regularly to the media. During a sabbatical, she ran a protection monitoring team for the Norwegian Refugee Council in Sri Lanka. Before joining Human Rights Watch in 1999, Neff clerked for a US federal judge, advocated on behalf of immigrants and refugees in the US, and worked with community development and women's organizations in Honduras. She is a graduate of Davidson College and New York University School of Law.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Fewer than half of the school-age refugee children in Lebanon are in formal education.

(Beirut) - The number of Syrian refugee children enrolled in school in Lebanon has stalled at the same inadequate levels as in the 2017-2018 school year, Human Rights Watch said today.

Fewer than half of the 631,000 school-age refugee children in Lebanon are in formal education, with roughly 210,000 in donor-supported public schools and 63,000 in private schools. The Education Ministry said that it was obliged to limit enrollment and cut costs due to insufficient funding from international donors.

“Every Syrian refugee child who is not in school is an indictment of the collective failure to fulfill their right to education,” said Bill Van Esveld, senior children’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “There was already an education crisis in Lebanon, yet the current school year has been marred by finger-pointing over funding and last-minute decisions that left many kids out in the cold.”

International donors have made joint pledges to support universal enrollment for Syrian refugee children and should ensure they are providing sufficient funds to reach that goal, Human Rights Watch said. They should work with Lebanon’s Education Ministry to increase accountability, transparency, and predictability in education planning.

The Education Ministry’s goal for 2018-2019 was to enroll 250,000 Syrian children, an increase of 40,000, and 215,000 Lebanese children in public schools, which would have required $149 million in donor funding. As of November, the ministry said that it had received only $100 million.

Human Rights Watch interviewed six Syrian families with a total of 14 children who could not enroll. Some said that they were not informed that new students could not enroll, or of subsequent policy changes, or whether their children would be placed on waiting lists. Human Rights Watch also interviewed Education Ministry officials, staff of nongovernmental groups and UN agencies, and donor governments that are funding education in Lebanon, but could not identify a single issue or actor responsible for the budget shortfall.

In September, the ministry decided it would not accept new Syrian students but limit enrollment to students who had previously been enrolled in public schools or completed accredited pre-primary or catch-up programs. However, many Syrian children who were in school last year did not re-enroll. The ministry extended the deadline by two weeks, to October 27, and instructed schools and nongovernmental groups to identify students who did not return. On October 20, it also eased restrictions to allow new Syrian students to enroll, so long as no new classes had to be opened to accommodate them. As of November 20, about 36,000 new students have enrolled, but 28,500 former students still had not, a ministry official said. Taking the lower enrollment numbers into account, the ministry reported in mid-November that it still faced a $30 million budget gap.

The families told Human Rights Watch that officials at a primary school in the Bekaa valley had either refused to enroll their children or accepted them but told them to leave after a few days, including one boy who had in fact been enrolled in a public school last year. Groups supporting children in the area corroborated the families’ accounts and reported similar problems at two other public schools.

In other areas, some school officials arbitrarily insisted that refugee children present documents that the Education Ministry does not require for enrollment, such as proof of legal residency in Lebanon, or asked parents to pay to enroll their children, staff at several groups said. Human Rights Watch has previously found noncompliance by some public school staff with official education policies.

Human Rights Watch was not able to determine whether any individual donors failed to meet agreed funding goals, but has documented that a lack of transparent and timely donor funding has undermined the goal of reaching Syrian refugee children with education. At a series of international conferences since 2016, Lebanese and donor government representatives have jointly agreed on the goal of universal enrollment for refugee children and on education budgets.

Some Syrian children who were denied enrollment at public schools have been left with no alternative access to education. Syrian parents whose children had been rejected by public schools told Human Rights Watch that preschool programs run by nongovernmental groups could not accept the children back, either because classes had filled up or because their children had aged out of the preschool programs. The Education Ministry generally permits nongovernmental groups to help primary-school-age children who are already enrolled in public schools, for instance with homework support, but does not permit them to teach out-of-school children in this age group.

The Education Ministry did not repeat last year’s “Back to School” campaign, in which nongovernmental groups and UN agencies had encouraged Syrian and vulnerable Lebanese families to enroll their children. The ministry said the campaign had been inefficient and that a new campaign risked enrolling children whom there were no funds to teach. But nongovernmental education providers said that the lack of a campaign contributed to poor re-enrollment this fall among children who had formerly been in school.

Other education programs have also been curtailed or interrupted, including the Accelerated Learning Program, to help children who had been out of school catch up. The ministry lost funding for the program and cut the number of students during the summer, and only received funding to continue it in November, an official said. Placement tests are due to be held in December. The program is the only way back to school for thousands of Syrian children who could not pass entrance examinations. As of November, the ministry had not reinstated a program to allow UN agencies to place Syrian volunteers as “community education liaisons” to support Syrian students at second shift schools taught in Arabic.

Some families said that the barriers to education were pushing them to think about leaving Lebanon for Syria, despite the risks involved, and that others had already left. Humanitarian organizations have also noted that limited access to education is one of the factors pushing Syrians to return to Syria despite concerns about safety.

Human Rights Watch does not have evidence that recent returns of Syrians have been forced. However, harsh living conditions, largely as a result of Lebanese policies that have restricted legal residency, work, and freedom of movement, have put so much indirect pressure on refugees that some believe they have no option but to return to a country where they face serious risks.

Lebanon should follow through on the important commitments to refugee rights that it made at a the Friends of Syria donor conference in Brussels in April, including on residency statuslegal protection, education,  and nonrefoulement or not returning people to places where they would be in danger.

“Many refugee children are still shut out of school in Lebanon and it’s already December, putting their future at risk,” Van Esveld said. “Donors should ensure that the Education Ministry has the promised funds to prevent a “lost generation,” while insisting on access to quality education. Parents shouldn’t be forced to decide between their kids’ education and their safety.”

Accounts from Families

Names have been changed for the protection and privacy of those interviewed.

“Sara,” the mother of two boys ages 11 and 8 in the Bekaa valley, described her desperation as October went by and they were unable to enroll in school:

I went to register them both, and at first the school told me they could begin on October 10. But then [the younger son] only went for 5 days, and the older boy went for 10 days, and the director told them to leave. “You don’t have a name here,” the director said. She meant they weren’t on the list from the ministry, or on her computer. [My older son] was told to leave in the middle of a class by his teacher, and when he went to the director and asked why, the director slapped him. He deserves to know at least why they won’t let him go to school. I tried to register them at other schools. [My older son] was a good student before, now he can’t remember how to multiply, and [my younger son] can’t even read.

“Sabrine,” 40, said that a public primary school had refused to enroll her daughters last year, saying that there was no room for them, and rejected them again this fall. “Um Ahmad,” 27, said her boys, ages 10 and 11, were both enrolled in first grade at a public school last year. This year, officials at the school allowed the older boy to register but rejected his brother, without explanation.

Some school officials who initially registered but then refused to enroll students said they were acting on verbal instructions from the Education Ministry, humanitarian groups reported.

“Awad,” 50, said that his three children, ages 7 to 10, were turned away by public school officials when they tried to register in October because they lacked certifications of previous enrollment at a public school. He said that barriers to accessing education were contributing to refugees leaving Lebanon:

The camp I’m in has 17 children who are not in school. A whole extended family went back to Syria because they wanted the kids to get an education. I think I will have to go back at the end of the year too, if I can’t get my children in school here.

Refugee Education and Funding

The Syrian conflict forced an estimated 1.5 million refugees into Lebanon, which with a population of approximately 4 million, is hosting the highest number of refugees per capita in the world.  

At a conference in London in February 2016, donors and countries hosting Syrian refugees had committed to ensure that there would be no “lost generation” of children, and that $1.4 billion annually was needed to support education, primarily in Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey.

At the conference, Lebanon presented an updated version of a national education plan, “Reaching All Children with Education II,” with a budgeted need of $350 million annually in donor support for five years, an overall figure that includes first and second shift enrollment costs as well as other costs. Donors and Lebanese government representatives re-committed to universal enrollment and the $350 million figure in subsequent meetings in Brussels.

Even before the Syrian conflict, 70 percent of Lebanese parents sent their children to private schools due to concerns about the quality of the public school system. Lebanon’s public schools now have roughly the same number of Syrian and Lebanese children enrolled.

Overall, there are 631,000 refugee children in Lebanon, ages 3 to 18, who are eligible to enroll in formal education, from pre-primary through secondary school. During the 2017-2018 school year, about 213,000 Syrian refugee children enrolled in public schools, including 59,000 enrolled in “first shift” morning classes at public schools alongside Lebanese children and 154,000 in Syrian-only, “second shift” classes, which operate in the afternoons at public schools, of whom 149,000 completed the year. Another 63,000 Syrian children were enrolled in private or semi-private schools.

For the current school year, the Education Ministry reported in November that 155,000 Syrian children are enrolled in second-shift classes. Figures for Lebanese and Syrian children in the morning shift classes were not yet available. But an official estimated that the numbers in morning shift classes and private schools remain roughly equivalent to last year.

The Education Ministry said it had not repeated its “Back to School” campaign because it cost $1 million and that only 20 percent of children it reached were out of school. It said that a new campaign risked reaching children whom it had no funds to teach. Instead, the ministry said that nongovernmental groups and UN agencies should identify out-of-school children and place them on waiting lists in case more funding becomes available.

The Education Ministry said in planning documents that its goal was to increase enrollment to 250,000 Syrian children in 2018-19, at a projected cost of $135.8 million, based on previously-agreed “unit costs” of $600 per Syrian child enrolled in second shift classes, and $363 per Syrian child enrolled in first shift classes. In addition, the ministry aimed to increase enrollment of vulnerable Lebanese children from 210,000 to 215,000, at a cost of $12.9 million in donations, at $60 per child. Donor funding offsets part of the school fees that Lebanese families would otherwise have to pay. As of July, donors had contributed $100 million, leaving a budget gap of $48.7 million for the school year that began on September 25 for Lebanese children and October 10 for Syrians.

Based on current enrollment figures, the ministry reported in late November that it still faced a $30 million funding gap.

In discussing the budget shortfall, all parties mentioned an ongoing disagreement over the way the Education Ministry was using $100 out of the $600 allocated per child enrolled in second shift classes to build new schools rather than for maintenance and depreciation of existing facilities, and donors were pushing for the ministry to switch from “unit costs” per enrolled student to an overall cost for the RACE 2 program, but there was no information to show these issues were linked to the funding shortfall.

 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

This submission relates to the review of Georgia under the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict. It focuses on the issue of the protection of students, teachers, and schools in situations of armed conflict.  

Human Rights Watch documented numerous cases of attacks on schools in the Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia carried out by Georgian forces, South Ossetian Forces and Russian Forces during the August 2008 war. This included reports from witnesses of Russian aircraft making several strikes on and near School No. 7 in Gori city in August 2008. According to one witness, about a hundred Georgian military reservists were in the yard of the school when it was attacked. In a further case, Human Rights Watch documented an attack on School No. 12 in the southern part of Tskhinvali, which was seriously damaged by Georgian fire after militias had taken up positions there.[1]  

Human Rights Watch also conducted research in the Gali district of Abkhazia, another breakaway region, from June 2009 through March 2011, looking into the situation of spontaneous ethnic Georgian returnees there. We found that access to education was restricted in the form of schooling carried out in the Georgian-language. Prior to the conflict in the 1990s, Georgian was the language of instruction for almost all schools in the Gali district. However, since 1995, the Abkhaz authorities have gradually introduced Russian as the main language of instruction, reducing the availability of Georgian language education. This education policy created barriers to education, as the majority of school-age children living in Gali district did not speak Russian. The policy has also had an affect on the quality of education as there was not enough qualified Russian-speaking teachers in the Gali district to teach in Russian. Teachers and parents were concerned at the time that as the Abkhaz authorities devoted more resources to ensuring Russian was the language of instruction in Gali, the few remaining Georgian-language schools would disappear altogether.[2]

The issue is ongoing. According to the consolidated report on the conflict in Georgia prepared by the Council of Europe Secretary General, “the gradual prohibition of teaching of/in the Georgian language [has] continued to give rise to serious concerns and affect the quality of education.”[3] Since 2015, instruction in Russian instead of the Georgian language is now offered from grades one to seven, in all 11 schools in the Lower Gali. In grades eight to eleven, the language of instruction remains Georgian, however the de facto authorities have declared they will replace it with Russian by 2022. The report details that the teaching of the Georgian language and literature has been reduced to two to three classes per week and the policy is reportedly enforced through inspections.[4]

Georgia has recently been a supporter of protecting students, teachers, and schools during times of armed conflict. It was among the first countries to endorse the Safe Schools Declaration[5] and thereby committing itself to using the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict as a practical tool to guide their behavior during military operations.[6]

Human Rights Watch recommends that the Committee:

  • Commend Georgia for its endorsement of the Safe Schools Declaration and the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict;
  • Encourage Georgia to advocate for neighboring states to endorse the Safe Schools Declaration and implement its commitments to protecting students, teachers, and schools during armed conflict;
  • Encourage Georgia to continue to develop and share examples of its implementation of the Declaration’s commitments with this Committee and with other countries that have endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration—especially during the 2019 Third International Safe Schools Conference—as examples of good practice in protecting students, teachers, and schools during armed conflict; and
  • Ask Georgia what their main human rights concerns are regarding children’s education in Abkhazia and in the Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia.

[1] “Up In Flames: Humanitarian Law Violations and Civilian Victims in the Conflict over South Ossetia,” Human Rights Watch, January 23, 2009, https://www.hrw.org/report/2009/01/23/flames/humanitarian-law-violations-and-civilian-victims-conflict-over-south (accessed November 8, 2018).

[2] Living in Limbo: The Rights of Ethnic Georgian Returnees to the Gali District of Abkhazia, July 2011, https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/reports/georgia0711LR.pdf

[3] “Consolidated report on the conflict in Georgia,” The Council of Europe, November 8, 2018,

https://civil.ge/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Consolidated-Report-on-the-Conflict-in-Georgia-April-September-2018.pdf

[4] Ibid.

[5] Safe Schools Declaration, May 28, 2015, https://www.regjeringen.no/globalassets/departementene/ud/vedlegg/utvikling/safe_schools_declaration.pdf (accessed November 6, 2018).

[6] Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA), Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict, March 18, 2014, http://protectingeducation.org/sites/default/files/documents/guidelines_en.pdf (accessed November 6, 2018).

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Russian blogger, Zhenya Svetski, wearing a rainbow scarf in Moscow, December 2018. 

© 2018 Dmitry Belyakov for Human Rights Watch

(New York) – Russia’s “gay propaganda” law is having a negative impact on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The 2013 law exacerbated the hostility LGBT people in Russia have long suffered, and also stifled access to LGBT-inclusive education and support services, with harmful consequences for children.

The 92-page report, “No Support: Russia’s ‘Gay Propaganda’ Law Imperils LGBT Youth,” documents how Russia’s “gay propaganda” law is having a deeply damaging effect on LGBT children. Human Rights Watch interviewed LGBT youth and mental health professionals in diverse locations across Russia, including urban and rural areas, to examine the everyday experiences of the children in schools, homes, and in public, and their ability to get reliable and accurate information about themselves as well as counseling and other support services.

“Russia’s ‘gay propaganda’ law is harming youth by cutting them off from vital information,” said Michael Garcia Bochenek, senior children’s rights counsel at Human Rights Watch. “And amid the intense social hostility surrounding LGBT people in Russia, the law stops mental health providers from counseling children who have questions about sexual orientation and gender identity.”

Formally called the law “aimed at protecting children from information promoting the denial of traditional family values,” the “gay propaganda” law bans the “promotion of nontraditional sexual relations to minors” – a reference universally understood to mean a ban on providing children with access to information about LGBT people’s lives. The ban includes, but is not limited to, information provided via the press, television, radio, and the Internet.

The law directly harms children by denying them access to essential information and fostering stigma against LGBT children and their families, Human Rights Watch found.

The 2013 law contributed to an intensification of stigma, harassment, and violence against LGBT people in Russia. The law has been used to shut down online information and mental health referral services for children and discourage support groups and mental health professionals from working with children. It has further entrenched antipathy toward LGBT people, and it has had a chilling effect on mental health professionals who work with LGBT youth, with some psychologists reporting self-censorship on issues of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Russia’s “gay propaganda” law is a classic example of political homophobia, Human Rights Watch said. It targets vulnerable sexual and gender minorities for political gain. When President Vladimir Putin signed the federal law in June 2013, he pandered to widespread antipathy toward LGBT people. The law gives the strong endorsement of the Russian state to the false and discriminatory view that LGBT people are a threat to tradition and the family. On the international stage, the law helped position Russia as a champion of so-called “traditional values.”

“No one wants to get beaten on the street, but that’s the fear LGBT people in Russia live with now,” Nikita R., an 18-year-old transgender man, told Human Rights Watch. “We know that most people believe the mass media, and the stories there teach them that we are horrible creatures, so we are in danger all the time.”

The law has been used multiple times to shut down Deti-404 (Children-404), an online group that offers psychological support, advice, and a safe online community for LGBT children, including those who experience violence and aggression because of their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. The law’s effects have also been insidious in clinical and counseling settings. Mental health providers told Human Rights Watch that the law interferes with their ability to offer honest, scientifically accurate, and open counseling services, leading some to self-censor themselves or set out explicit disclaimers at the start of sessions.

During proceedings at the European Court of Human Rights about the law, Dr. Ilan Meyer, an internationally renowned expert in social psychology and public health specializing in minority populations, submitted testimony that the law does not protect youth, and in fact harms them.

“Should Russia aim to improve the health and well-being of its citizens…interventions that are the exact opposite of what the propaganda law dictates would be required,” he said.

“Furthermore, laws such as Russia’s propaganda law can have serious negative impact on the health and well-being of [LGBT people] in that the law increases and enshrines stigma and prejudice, leading to discrimination and violence.”

The court ruled in 2017 that the law violates the rights to freedom of expression and freedom from discrimination guaranteed in the European Convention on Human Rights, and that the law was indeed harmful to children.

A psychologist who works with LGBT youth told Human Rights Watch that almost every LGBT client she has ever had was “treated as if they were as scapegoats, clowns, or outcasts.” Amid such intense social hostility toward LGBT people, mental health support for youth is crucial.

But the “gay propaganda” law curtails the ability for mental health professionals to offer that support. Another psychologist described how even in situations where it is clinically relevant to discuss a child client’s sexual orientation, he feels constrained by the law: “Teenagers often wait for me to ask a direct and precise question about his or her sexual orientation or gender identity, but the law prevents me from doing that.” Another said she covers all LGBT-themed books on her office bookshelf during clinical sessions to avoid being accused of spreading “gay propaganda.”

“The ‘gay propaganda’ law risks inflicting long-term harm on generations of Russian youth by encouraging discrimination and curtailing access to support services,” Bochenek said. “This law doesn’t protect anyone, but it does cut off kids from the services they need to thrive, and in some cases even survive.” 

Author: Human Rights Watch, Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

 

Summary

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth in Russia face formidable barriers to enjoying their fundamental rights to dignity, health, education, information, and association. In Russia, antipathy towards homosexuality and gender variance is not new—LGBT people there have long faced threats, bullying, abuse inside their families, and discrimination—but the 2013 “gay propaganda” law has increased that social hostility. The law has also had a stifling effect on access to affirming education and support services, with harmful consequences for LGBT youth.

Russia’s “gay propaganda” law is a classic example of political homophobia. It targets vulnerable sexual and gender minorities for political gain. When Russian president Vladimir Putin signed the federal law in June 2013, he pandered to a conservative domestic support base. And on the international stage, the law helped position Russia as a champion of so-called “traditional values.” The legislation, formally titled the law “aimed at protecting children from information promoting the denial of traditional family values,” bans the “promotion of nontraditional sexual relations to minors”—a reference universally understood to mean a ban on providing children access to information about LGBT people’s lives. The ban includes, but is not limited to, information provided via the press, television, radio, and the internet.

The law has been used to shut down websites that provide valuable information and services to teens across Russia and to bar LGBT support groups from working with youth. But the law’s effects have been much broader: individual mental health professionals have curtailed what they say and what support they give to students, and the law gives the strong imprimatur of the Russian state to the false and discriminatory view that LGBT people are a threat to tradition and the family. Significantly, mental health providers we spoke with said the law interferes with their ability to offer honest, scientifically accurate, and open counseling services, leading some to self-censor themselves or set out explicit disclaimers at the start of sessions to avoid running afoul of the law.

Given the already deeply hostile climate for LGBT people in Russia when the law was passed, it is not surprising that its passage coincided with an uptick in often-gruesome vigilante violence against LGBT people in Russia—frequently carried out in the name of protecting Russian values and Russia’s children. And while Russian government officials and parliament members claim that the goal of the “gay propaganda” law is to protect children from potentially harmful subject matter, the law in fact directly harms children by denying them access to essential information and increasing stigma against LGBT youth and their families. As the European Court of Human Rights concluded in 2017, the law reflects and reinforces “predisposed bias, unambiguously highlighted by its domestic interpretation and enforcement.”

This report—based largely on interviews with LGBT youth and mental health professionals in diverse locations in Russia, including urban and rural areas—documents the situation of LGBT youth there today. It looks at their everyday experiences in schools, homes, and in public, and their ability to access reliable and accurate information about themselves as well as counseling and other support services.  As one mental health provider explained, “The whole situation is just worsening. As of today, teachers and teachers-psychologists are not allowed to speak positively [on LGBT topics]. They can’t just say to a kid, ‘Hey, everything is normal with you.’”

LGBT youth interviewed by Human Rights Watch described feelings of intense fear of disclosing their sexual orientation or gender identity in their daily lives, as well as distrust in the individuals and systems that should provide them safety and refuge. This fear extends beyond the school walls: some of the students Human Rights Watch interviewed said that others in their communities also threated and physically abused them.

While some LGBT youth told us that teachers had supported and protected them, many others said their teachers characterize LGBT people as a symptom of perversion imported from Western Europe or North America, mirroring the political homophobia that motivated the passage of the “gay propaganda” law in the first place.

For some, peers are a source of relative support and openness—when compared with how their parents and teachers relate to issues of sexual orientation and gender identity. Others, however, face harassment, bullying, and discrimination at the hands of their classmates, who often repeat the stereotypes, misinformation, and noxious anti-LGBT rhetoric pervasive in Russian media. Some students heard comments from classmates suggesting that LGBT people do not deserve to live.

Nearly all of the youth we spoke with described intense feelings of isolation, which they attributed to persistent anti-LGBT rhetoric and hostile social attitudes. Their sense of isolation was exacerbated, they said, by the “gay propaganda” law. Repeatedly, they explained that their primary struggle is not coming to terms with being different as such, but rather finding accurate information about gender and sexuality in a hostile environment.

In the absence of accurate information and safe access to community spaces, or support from teachers and school mental health staff, many LGBT youth turn to the internet—an embattled, politicized, and often-censored space in Russia. However, the “gay propaganda” law has also restricted access to information about gender and sexuality online.

Mental health professionals we spoke with strongly echoed what LGBT youth said. They spoke of growing fear and anxiety among such youth since the law passed and an increase in demands for counselors attuned to LGBT issues, but also pervasive ignorance among psychologists and new self-censorship even among those who understand the issues and want to play a positive role in the lives of LGBT youth. One psychologist described how even in situations where it is clinically relevant to discuss a child client’s sexual orientation, he feels constrained by the law: “Teenagers often wait for me to ask a direct and precise question about his or her sexual orientation or gender identity, but the law prevents me from doing that.” A social worker pointed out that the law “is an effective means of intimidation.”

Psychologists told Human Rights Watch that the “gay propaganda” law has limited their ability to be fully candid on questions of sexual orientation and gender identity. Some explained that they felt forced to speak about sexual orientation and gender identity only in euphemisms, or to say explicitly at the outset of counseling sessions that they cannot and will not disseminate “gay propaganda” in attempts to dispel in advance any notion that they are violating the law.

By sending an official message approving the marginalization of LGBT people, psychologists told us, the “gay propaganda” law increases the challenges youth face. And by erecting legal barriers between marginalized youth and the support services and information they need, the law does significant harm.

Deti-404 is an online group that offers psychological support, advice, and a safe online community for LGBT children, including those who experience violence and aggression because of their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. “Deti” (дети) means “children.” The “404” in the group’s title is a reference to the standard internet “error 404” message indicating that a webpage cannot be found, so the group’s name can be read as referring to children who have been erased in official terms. Elena Klimova, a journalist and LGBT activist, launched Deti-404 while the “gay propaganda” law was pending in the parliament.[1]

On June 10, 2013, Yelena Mizulina, the author of the law at the State Duma, the lower chamber of Russia’s parliament, told reporters that the Deti-404 website did not constitute “gay propaganda” under the law. “Such a project is not concerned with the propaganda of non-traditional relationships,” she said. The reporter then asked her: “What is it like for these children when they discover that they are not like everyone else? How do they get information that it is not a disease, that it's okay?” Mizulina replied:

Information that is explanatory, or descriptive, or which does not call for anything, which is not provocative, which doesn’t depict non-traditional sexual relations, is not propaganda, it can be legally accessed by teens.[2]

The next day the State Duma voted unanimously to pass the law.

Deti-404 has gained tens of thousands of members since then and has become a crucial source of information and refuge for LGBT youth in Russia. But contrary to Mizulina’s assertions, Deti-404 has been a consistent target of the “gay propaganda” law in its five and a half years of existence.

Klimova has been charged under the “gay propaganda” law three times for operating Deti-404 and forced to change its digital location or re-launch the group to keep it functioning. Since a 2016 court decision, the group’s website, www.deti404.com, has been formally blocked in Russia.

By enshrining discrimination in national law, Russia’s “gay propaganda” law violates Russia’s international human rights obligations. International bodies—including the European Court of Human Rights and the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child—have strongly condemned it for this reason.

Our interviews show that Russian youth are resilient amid the onslaught of anti-LGBT rhetoric, negative social attitudes, discriminatory laws, and persistent misinformation in their lives. The “gay propaganda” law, however, risks inflicting long-term harm on generations of Russian youth by encouraging discrimination and curtailing access to support services. The path forward requires repeal of the law and other reforms that uphold the basic rights of LGBT youth to freedom of expression and access to information. Mental health professionals, for their part, should not have to look over their shoulders when providing counseling and other services to LGBT youth: they should be free to provide counseling based on evidence and international best practices, not societal fears backed by repressive legislation.

 

Recommendations

To the President of the Russian Federation

  • Immediately issue a public statement condemning the use of hate speech toward LGBT people.

To the Government of the Russian Federation

  • Repeal the “gay propaganda” law, Federal Law No. 135-FZ of June 29, 2013, which bans the distribution of information about LGBT people’s lives to “minors” (people under age 18).
  • Repeal and amend other laws, including Federal Law No. 167-FZ of July 2, 2013, and governmental decree No. 93 of February 10, 2014, that contain discriminatory provisions against LGBT people.
  • Instruct regional legislatures where regional “gay propaganda” laws remain in force to repeal these laws because they violate Russia’s international human rights obligations.
  • Introduce legislation to protect the rights of all LGBT people, including children, such as legislation to explicitly proscribe discrimination against them in public services and to make sexual orientation and gender identity protected categories against discrimination in relevant provisions of Russia’s criminal and civil laws.
  • Include information about sexual orientation and gender identity in the national curriculum based on guidelines set forth by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).
  • End rhetoric by members of the government that stigmatizes LGBT people and allows Russian authorities to explicitly or tacitly deem anti-LGBT sentiments and violence as permissible.
  • Ensure that judgments of the European Court of Human Rights (including Bayev v. Russia, Alekseyev v. Russia, and Alekseyev and Others v. Russia) on freedom of expression, assembly, and association are complied with through laws and policies of the Russian Federation.
  • Instruct local authorities to comply with the standards on freedom of expression, association, and assembly set out in judgments of the European Court of Human Rights.
  • Implement Recommendation CM/Rec(2010)5 of the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers to member states on measures to combat discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity.
  • Instruct relevant law enforcement agencies, such as the office of the prosecutor general, the Ministry of Interior, and the Investigative Committee, to gather data about homophobic and transphobic crimes, and make such data publicly available.
  • Instruct prosecutors and judges to pay special attention to and use hate crime legislation when prosecuting crimes and infractions against LGBT people.
  • Monitor the response of law enforcement officials to crimes against LGBT people, with the goal of continuously improving it.

To the Ministry of Health

  • Issue a non-discrimination policy inclusive of sexual orientation and gender identity for all mental health providers.

To the Ministry of Education

  • Establish reporting mechanisms to receive complaints of harassment, bullying, and violence, and promptly investigate and act appropriately by conducting swift and impartial investigations upon receipt of complaints.
  • Provide guidance and training for teachers and administrators on how to respond when they see or hear about incidents of violence.
  • Require age-appropriate, comprehensive, and inclusive sexuality education, based on scientific evidence and human rights, as a mandatory part of school curricula.
  • Develop and implement a non-discrimination policy inclusive of sexual orientation and gender identity for all state schools.
  • Ensure that all school phsychologists are trained to work with LGBT children.

To School Staff

  • Teachers and administrators should challenge discriminatory attitudes expressed by students and staff that allow intolerance, bullying, and other forms of harassment and violence to flourish.
  • Schools should involve children in the development of strategies for the elimination and prevention of bullying and other forms of violence in school.
  • Until the Ministry of Education has developed a national non-discrimination policy that includes sexual orientation and gender identity, schools should introduce and implement their own nondiscrimination policies that cover these bases of discrimination.

To the European Union and Its Member States

  • Continue to publicly call on the Russian government to repeal the “gay propaganda” law.
  • Publically condemn acts of violence against LGBT people and activists and raise the issue in routine and high-level meetings with relevant Russian officials.
  • In line with the June 2013 EU guidelines on promoting and protecting the enjoyment of all human rights by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) persons, support initiatives to provide assistance and redress for victims of such violence, civil society and governmental monitoring of cases involving violence, and training of law enforcement personnel.
  • Continue to urge the Russian government to fully implement the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights in the cases of Bayev v. Russia and Alekseyev v. Russia and Recommendation CM/Rec(2010)5 of the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers to member states on measures to combat discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity.

To the Council of Europe

  • The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe should invite the Russian Federation to provide the committee with information on the steps it has taken to comply with the European Court of Human Rights’ judgment in Bayev v. Russia and to uphold the rights of children and adults to freedom of expression (including freedom to seek and receive information) and freedom of association, in particular relating to LGBT issues.
  • The Committee of Ministers should closely monitor the Russian Federation’s implementation of the European Court of Human Rights’ judgments in Alekseyev v. Russia (2010) and, once it becomes final, Alekseyev and Others v. Russia (2018).
  • Follow up on the Parliamentary Assembly’s Resolution 2230 (2018), adopted June 27, 2018, with an additional inquiry to the Russian government on the persecution of LGBTI people in Chechnya.

 

To Participating States of the Organisation of Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE)

  • Upon completion of the work of the independent expert appointed under the Moscow Mechanism, use all relevant OSCE institutions to ensure that Russia carries out the independent expert’s recommendations.

 

Methodology

This report is based on Human Rights Watch interviews conducted between October 2016 and April 2018 with 56 sexual and gender minority youth and 11 mental health providers and social workers in Russia, extensive review of court records and secondary source materials through November 2018, and prior Human Rights Watch research published in news releases and other public documents from 2014 to 2018.

Most interviews were conducted in Russian with simultaneous translation into English, some by an interviewer fluent in Russian, and a few completely in English. Interviewees live in different cities and regions across Russia, including St. Petersburg, Moscow, Magadan, Rostov, Astrahan, Irkutsk, Kaliningrad, Ulyanovsk, Tula, Novosibirsk, Khabarovsk, Volga, Kostroma, Krasnodar, Veliky Novgorod, Belgorod, Murmansk, Perm, Samara, as well Altai, Sverdlovsk, Trans-Baikal, and Udmurtia regions.

Human Rights Watch researchers identified potential interviewees through Russian LGBT organizations, including Deti-404, and then contacted and interviewed them independently.

All interviewees were informed of the purpose of the interview, its voluntary nature and the goal and public nature of our reports. All interviewees gave their oral consent to participate in the interview. Pseudonyms have been used for all interviewees, and some additional identifying information, such as location, has been withheld. No interviewee received compensation for providing information. Most interviews were conducted by telephone or via internet communication.

In line with international standards, the term “child” refers in this report to a person under the age of 18.[3] Youth in Russia use a variety of terms to describe same-sex attraction and gender variance, as discussed more fully in the glossary, and as Human Rights Watch and other researchers have documented elsewhere.[4] This report describes the sexual orientation and gender identity of youth in the terms they used for these aspects of their identity.

Human Rights Watch wrote to the Russian Ministry of Education and Ministry of Health on October 12, 2018. Our letters appear in Appendices 1 and 2 respectively. The Ministry of Education responded on November 9, 2018; its letter appears in Appendix 3. The Ministry of Health has not responded to our letter.

 

I. Growing Up Queer in Russia

I’m not having a good life. Every day is like torture. I'm just tired of this kind of life. Tired of pretending that I am a woman . . . tired of misunderstanding, tired of myself.
—Lev M., 18-year-old transgender man in grade 11, Moscow, December 2017

Longstanding Antipathy in Law and Official Actions

Antipathy towards same-sex conduct is not new in Russia. Peter the Great banned “sodomy” in the army and navy in 1716, and the criminal code enacted under Nicholas I in 1835 prohibited same-sex sexual relations between civilian men.[5] Sex between men was decriminalized in 1917 but became a criminal offense in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR or “Soviet Union”) in 1934, carrying a prison term of up to five years of hard labor.[6] In the Soviet era, thousands of men were convicted of sodomy and sent to labor camps and psychiatric institutions.[7] Same-sex relationships between women were not criminalized, but some lesbians faced forced psychiatric hospitalization.[8] In this climate of legal sanction and fear,  the majority of LGBT people kept a low profile and concealed their identities.

Same-sex relations between men were decriminalized in 1993, two years after the breakup of the Soviet Union, and in 1999 the Russian Ministry of Health recognized the standards of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD), which had been revised in 1990 to remove a diagnosis for homosexuality.[9] The age of consent in Russia is the same regardless of sexual orientation and in 2003, following various changes, was set at 16 years old.[10]

The Russian public, however, increasingly views LGBT people as “abnormal” and “perverse,” and widespread social stigma around homosexuality persists.[11] A 2018 survey by a government-run polling agency found that 63 percent of respondents believe there is a subversive force working in Russia to destroy “Russian values” through the spreading of “gay propaganda.” The trend is also encouraged by the absence of any concerted official efforts to condemn discrimination against LGBT people. The hardening of negative social attitudes coincides with the increasing spread of hateful, anti-LGBT rhetoric, including by public officials in the media, and the promulgation of regional and national anti-LGBT “gay propaganda” laws that prohibit the “promotion” of “nontraditional sexual relations to minors,”[12] understood to mean the depiction of LGBT people in anything other than a negative light. (These “gay propaganda” laws are discussed more fully in the following section.)

In early 2017, law enforcement and security officials in Chechnya systematically rounded up dozens of men suspected of being gay, held them for days in secret locations, and subjected them to humiliation, starvation, and other torture, forcing them to hand over information about other men who might be gay.[13] The “gay propaganda” law did not cause the purge—Chechnya’s leader has targeted various groups deemed “undesirable” for years[14]—but the law did provide some rhetorical justification and political cover.[15] Russian federal authorities initially dismissed reports of the anti-gay purge in Chechnya. While they eventually pledged to open an investigation,[16] to date none has been carried out.[17] In August 2018, 15 participating states of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) called on Russia to report on the actions it has taken to stop abuses in Chechnya against LGBT people as well as journalists, human rights defenders, lawyers, and nongovernmental organizations.[18] In November 2018, 16 participating states invoked the OSCE’s “Moscow Mechanism,” triggering the appointment of an independent expert who will look into allegations of the abuses.[19]

The “Gay Propaganda” Law

On June 29, 2013, Russian president Vladimir Putin signed Federal Law No. 135-FZ “aimed at protecting children from information promoting the denial of traditional family values.”[20] The law bans the “promotion of nontraditional sexual relations to minors,” a reference that is universally understood to mean discussion of lesbian, gay and bisexual relationships.[21] Promoting nontraditional sexual relations to children is considered to be:

spreading information aimed at instilling in minors nontraditional sexual arrangements, the attractiveness of nontraditional sexual relations and/or a distorted view that society places an equal value on traditional and nontraditional sexual relations or propagating information on nontraditional sexual relations making them appear interesting.[22]

The ban includes but is not limited to information provided via the press, television, radio, and the internet. Passed unanimously by the Russian parliament, the law consists of amendments to the Law on Protection of Children from Information Harmful to Their Health and Development and to the Code of Administrative Violations.

Under the law, people found responsible for “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations to minors,” an administrative infraction, face fines of between 4,000 and 5,000 rubles (US$59 to $74); government officials face fines of 40,000 to 50,000 rubles (US$590 to US$735); and organizations, up to 1 million rubles (US$14,730) or temporary suspension of an organization’s activities for up to 90 days. Heavier fines may be imposed for the same actions if done through mass media and telecommunications, including the internet. Foreigners who violate the ban can be deported.[23]

The passage of Russia’s 2013 “gay propaganda” law coincided with a ratcheting up of homophobic rhetoric in state media and an increase in homophobic violence around the country. As Human Rights Watch documented in a December 2014 report, this included attacks by vigilante groups and individuals against LGBT people, and an increase in attacks on LGBT rights activists. Anti-gay groups used the 2013 law to justify campaigns of harassment and intimidation of LGBT teachers and other school or college staff to get them fired from their jobs.[24]

On September 23, 2014, Russia’s Constitutional Court deemed the ban constitutional. It found that the ban aimed to safeguard constitutional values such as “family and childhood” and protect children from harm to their development. The court also rejected arguments that the ban interfered with the right to privacy or prohibited or censured what it called “nontraditional” sexual relationships or debates about them.[25]

On October 18, 2017, Evdokiya Romanova, an activist, was found guilty of spreading “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships among minors using the internet” and fined 50,000 rubles (US$735). The content that came under scrutiny was two Facebook posts Romanova made in 2015 and 2016, including one about the Youth Coalition for Sexual and Reproductive Rights, an international group that advocates for young people’s access to accurate information about health and sexuality. The group believes that information and education are vital for safeguarding the life, health, and well-being of young people.

Romanova’s sentence was at least the seventh time Russian courts had found citizens guilty of “gay propaganda” under the 2013 federal law. Other cases include:

· Roskomnadzor, the federal agency empowered to oversee online and media content, targeted Elena Klimova, founder of the group Deti-404 and the administrator of the group’s online activities, alleging that the group’s activities contained “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relationships” in 2014, leading to courts convicting her twice of violating the law in 2015.

· On June 30, 2013, Dmitry Isakov held a one-minute protest on the central square of Kazan, a city 800 kilometers east of Moscow, holding a poster that said: “Being gay and loving gays is normal; beating gays and killing gays is criminal.” In December 2013, a court fined Isakov under the “gay propaganda” law.[26]

· On January 18, 2016, a court in Murmansk, in northwestern Russia, fined Sergei Alekseenko, an LGBT rights activist, for violating the “gay propaganda” ban. Alekseenko is the former director of Maximum, a group in Murmansk that provided legal and psychosocial support to LGBT people. The court found that certain items posted on Maximum’s website contained positive information about LGBT relations and imposed a fine of 100,000 rubles (US$1,475).

· In May 2018, Roskomnadzor took steps to shutter ParniPlus, a website containing information about the HIV epidemic among men who have sex with men in Russia. The head of Moscow’s Federal AIDS Center has called Russia’s HIV epidemic a “national catastrophe,”[27] and prevalence rates among men who have sex with men have increased dramatically in recent years. Epidemiologists have linked this trend closely with the “gay propaganda” law’s stifling of sexual health information.[28]

· In August 2018, the Commission on Minors and the Protection of Minors’ Rights fined 16-year-old Maxim Neverov of Biysk 50,000 rubles (US$735) for violating the “gay propaganda” law. The commission stated that Neverov had posted on his Vkontake account “some pictures (photos) of young men whose appearance (partly nude body parts) had the characteristics of propaganda of homosexual relations according to the expert opinion.”[29] Leverov was the first child under age 18 to be fined under the “gay propaganda” law, and immediately filed an appeal of the case.[30] In October 2018, a court in Biysk dismissed Neverov’s case, saying there was not enough evidence of “gay propaganda” presented.[31]

In addition, in November 2018 police confiscated several student drawings submitted to a contest held in Yekaterinburg in honor of International Tolerance Day. One of the seized drawings showed three couples—a man and a woman, two men, and two women—with the caption “We don’t choose our appearance, orientation, or race. We are all unique in our own ways.” Police told reporters the seized drawings would be examined for signs of “homosexual propaganda.”[32]  

LGBT youth interviewed by Human Rights Watch said that the law adversely affected their lives. Aleksey M., an 18-year-old first-year university student, described the law’s restriction on accurate and affirming information about LGBT life as akin to “cutting off air.”[33] Diana F., a 14-year-old lesbian from the Khabarovsk region, said she felt as if the law “literally makes homophobes have free rein in our country.” LGBT people, she said, “are afraid to organize prides and demonstrations. They’re afraid of being beaten or humiliated, and the offenders will go unpunished.”[34] Anton M., a 15-year-old gay boy, said: “Many people simply don't understand this [law] and believe that Russia completely banned LGBT relationships, and this results in oppression.”[35] And 18-year-old Valentina D. said:

I believe that it [the “gay propaganda” law] creates a negative image of LGBT people, as many may think that if something is illegal, it is really something dangerous, criminal, bad. Even the name “LGBT propaganda”—how can love become propaganda? We have too many stereotypes and too little information in our society, and the law only makes it all worse.[36]

The law has also contributed to widespread misinformation about gender and sexuality in Russia—including for parents, as documented later in this report. A 2018 survey by a government-run polling agency found that 63 percent of respondents believe there is a subversive force working in Russia to destroy “Russian values” through the spreading of “gay propaganda.”[37]

Endemic Discrimination and Abuse

For many LGBT children, most arenas of life—home, school, and the neighborhood—are risky. Those interviewed for this report describe being constantly on alert for harassment and violence. Many confront the anguished choice of hiding who they are to protect themselves from abuse or being open about their identity and placing themselves at greater risk.

Russian Orthodox Church leaders have made inflammatory public statements about gay people, and the strong and growing influence of the Russian Orthodox Church had fueled existing anti-LGBT sentiments. In 2014, for example, one high-level church official said that same-sex relations should be “completely eliminated” from Russian society, preferably through “moral persuasion” but if necessary through a public referendum on recriminalizing homosexuality.[38] These and other virulently anti-LGBT statements reinforce negative attitudes, send the implicit message that society condones violence against LGBT youth and adults, and dissuade those subjected to abuse from seeking redress. 

Some of the students Human Rights Watch interviewed said they were subject to violence or threats of violence. Denis P., an 18-year-old gay university student, told us, “In general my life is not bad. But sometimes I face homophobic attacks. It was especially bad, when I was in school, in a small town.” He continued:

Students of other schools threatened me. They said they were going to catch me, pepper spray my face, and do other violent things. They wanted to tell everything to my parents. On the street, as well as at school, I was facing constant bullying, they pointed their fingers at me, shouted: “Look, there is a faggot!”[39]

Vigilante attacks on LGBT people and inadequate responses from authorities have instilled deep fear among many LGBT youth in Russia. Georgy L., a 14-year-old transgender boy, explained why he was fearful based on his assessment of the environment for LGBT teenagers in Russia:

Hazing, beatings, and undermining of LGBT teens are not taken seriously. I’m sure the police will not consider a report from a teenager about being beaten, if he says that he is part of the LGBT community. Adults can safely mock us, rape us, and undermine us.[40]

Anton M., a 15-year-old gay boy in the 9th grade, said, “If you stand out from the crowd (and I stood out for about six months), it is difficult, but you get used to it.” He explained that he had dyed his hair, apparently a strong signal in many parts of Russia that a man or boy is gay. “Many people were shouting at me, some just did double-takes. One day, a man stopped his car and gave me the finger,” he told us. “At first, it was very strange, I did not expect such a reaction. Then I got used to it.”[41]

Georgy, the 14-year-old transgender boy, described the reactions he gets when people overhear his classmates using male pronouns to refer to him:

It's not clear straight away that I am not a male [biologically]. I have a short haircut, bind my chest, and wear only male clothes. But people don't want to notice the obvious, sometimes they think I am just a lesbian, call me by my “passport name,” or others will whisper loudly [about me] among themselves.

Such reactions happen frequently, he told us, adding that hearing these reactions is extremely upsetting. He explained:

I'm confused, I feel uncomfortable, I want to leave as soon as possible. I begin to fear that they will disclose and disgrace me. Because of this, I am haunted by paranoia, I feel it, when I heard the words, “Is it a boy or a girl? What is its sex?” Especially when I am in a crowd of people, I hear these words, and hurry to escape as soon as possible.[42]

A school psychologist described the situation of one of the boys she works with:

He is Mr. Gay. He’s not just gay—he’s gay-gay: orange socks, his hairstyle, dyed hair, Odic beauty, all of his friends are girls, mannerism of the highest sort. He is obviously gay. . . . And he never left his house at night to walk around his neighborhood. . . . He said: “Do you think that I don’t understand that if I, in these orange socks, with this hairstyle and scarf, go outside at 10p.m., that I won’t come home?”[43]

The “gay propaganda” laws have worsened already widespread and virulent anti-LGBT attitudes. The school psychologist explained:

Everyone is very careful. That’s how this law affected [people], of course, by really forcing them under the floor-boards. That is, before this someone somewhere could have said, once in a while, that he is gay, but not now. No sane person would . . . .[44]

Treatment by Parents

If you come out in Russia, it can lead to many problems in your family, in society.

—Alina P., a 15-year-old bisexual girl, Sverdlovsk region, December 2016

Parents and other adults can be an important source of guidance and support to LGBT youth, and most of the students we interviewed explicitly said it was a priority for them that their parents accept them for who they were. However, many parents seemed ill-equipped to be supportive of LGBT children, our interviews suggested. As a result, many LGBT youth felt that they could not turn to their parents for the guidance they wanted and felt they needed.

“I tried to have a conversation about LGBT [issues] with my parents, but they were homophobic, and getting no support [from them] I sort of dropped it,” said Veronika A., a 17-year-old in the Astrahan region.[45]

For many of the youth Human Rights Watch interviewed, stigma began at home. Taras P., a 15-year-old bigender student who uses a boy’s name but prefers female pronouns, told us:

My girlfriend’s mother . . . banned any mention of my name, forbade me from the house, and so on. The mother of another gay friend took him to a psychologist several times. Basically, all the parents impose a great taboo on this topic, they feel shame, even though they don't know anything about LGBT issues.[46]

Ekaterina T., a 15-year-old lesbian, said that she was not out to her parents and had no plans to tell them because they frequently express anti-LGBT attitudes. She added, “There is no support. Nobody understands me, in fact. And this is very hard.”[47] Others echoed these fears—sometimes based on media reports they had read or stories they had heard from peers.

In fact, many of the LGBT youth we spoke with said they were afraid that their parents would react with verbal abuse, restrictions on who they could see and what they could do in their free time, physical violence, or by kicking them out of the house. As a result, they had not come out to their parents.

A psychologist in Moscow said that three of the four LGBT youth clients she worked with had problems with their families:

These were problems, primarily, in the family. That is, complete rejection in the family, and the parents of these teenagers asked me for separate consultations and cried in my office: “What's going on with my child? Could you also work with this [problem]?” Meaning, they considered this a big problem.[48]

A Moscow-based social worker who runs an online help portal as well as support groups for LGBT youth explained that the majority of the queries her organization receives are from friends of LGBT youth who are worried about them. She said: “Typically [the inquiry is] about relationships with parents. Meaning, it is about a conflict with the parents.” She explained: “In extreme cases, it is when they leave their home and live with acquaintances.”[49]

Some students who discussed their sexual orientation or gender identity with their parents were surprised to find that their parents were supportive. More commonly, however, the youth we interviewed who had been open with their parents reported that their parents were negative or ambivalent about acknowledging them for who they were.

Some transgender youth reported particularly difficult experiences with their parents. Lev M., an 18-year-old in the 11th grade at a Moscow high school, described his mother’s reaction when he told her he was transgender:

I came out to her in early January 2015, a few days after New Year’s. We had a scandal because of it and never talked about it after. We almost never speak about my trans identity. I can't understand her attitude, because it changes from time to time. One time she says that she doesn't want to see me changing my sex, then says that she doesn’t care, next she says that if I want to do surgery, it is necessary to resolve my health issues. Because of this, her position is not clear to me. She doesn't support me. I am a daughter for her, not a son.

Our neighbors and her friends pester her with questions about me—the people who can see me in those rare moments when I go out on the street. I'm a homebody, hermit, social-phobic, introvert, and all that. So I do not like to go out; the house is safer.[50]

In another example, Vasily A., a 15-year-old transgender boy, said:

A month ago, I came out to my mom (my father doesn’t live with us). My mom said it's okay, she accepts me. I was so happy, I thought my life finally became MINE after that. The first few days she still was using the feminine gender and my passport name, even though I asked her not to say it, not even mention it. Three weeks passed, it seemed to me that this time was enough for her to get used to the fact. Then, I approached her, wanted to start a conversation, recalled the last conversation we had, and she said she did not remember anything of the sort. The next day she bought me two dresses, one for me to wear to the school New Year’s celebration, and the other for everyday wear.

Vasily said his mother does not usually object to the way he dresses, but often checks to make sure he does not wear a binder around his chest. “I can wear what I'm comfortable in, but I can put on my binder only in the toilet of the nearby mall, because my mom always checks.” He explained that this started when he wore the binder during a visit to his former nanny. When his mother came to pick him up, his nanny happened to comment that she had thought his breasts were bigger. As Vasily put it: “I always stoop, my mom did not notice. [But this time] she put her hand on my back and felt the wrapping through the shirt. At home, she forced me to take off the t-shirt and explain. Now she always does that, when I'm going somewhere—she touches my back and checks.”[51]

A psychologist who works with LGBT youth said: “It’s very often in my experience that parents refuse to talk about [sexual orientation and gender identity] and reject this as an issue altogether.” She explained: “In those cases, the main objective of my work becomes to educate and inform them. We can be a great resource when parents are ready to get information and support their children because then these parents become defenders of their children.”[52]

A psychologist in Vladivostok told Human Rights Watch that she had met with child clients whose parents brought them to her and asked her to “fix” them, as well as parents who brought their children in and asked for psychological support to accept their child. This psychologist stressed that whether a LGBT youth or a parent received knowledgeable, supportive care from a psychologist depended on a chance encounter with a supportive professional who was willing to risk running afoul of the law. Many of her peers in mental health services did not receive appropriate training about sexual orientation and gender identity-related issues. Discussing an in-patient rehabilitation center where she worked for two years, she said: “Theoretically, such a teenager could reach out there, but I don’t know if he would receive appropriate help.”[53]

 

II. Hostile Hallways

Against the backdrop of Russia’s “gay propaganda” law, anti-LGBT hostility has become entrenched in Russian schools in recent years. Whether a student finds support, respect, and affirmation from peers, teachers, or school staff depends almost entirely on chance.

Most LGBT students we interviewed for this report said the environment in Russian schools is indifferent, hostile, or outright violent. Experience there can have immediate as well as lifelong consequences. Most said that schools provide neither reliable information nor support for LGBT youth—forcing them to turn elsewhere. And the relentless hostility that many face in school impairs their ability to focus on their studies, and thus their access to education.

Due to the repressive legal and social climate, LGBT youth in Russia often feel isolated from their peers at school. Many of the students we spoke with told us that they knew nobody else who was gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender.[54] “Probably the most difficult thing is to find people who will understand you,” 15-year-old Alina P. said.[55]

Treatment by School Staff

When some of my classmates joke about LGBT issues, the teacher immediately says, “LGBT is nonsense, it is wrong.” Once when we were reading a story, the teacher made a slip of the tongue—reading that a boy loved another boy. My classmates began to laugh, and the teacher said she just made a mistake, and that gays are disgusting.
— Alina P., a 15-year-old bisexual girl, Sverdlovsk region, December 2016

Teachers at my school knew everything that was happening to me. I didn’t get any sympathy or help. They were openly hostile or indifferent. “Hey, kids can solve their problems themselves,” they said.
— Aleksey M., 18-year-old university student describing his high school experience, June 2018

Russian schools are hostile environments for LGBT students. LGBT youth told Human Rights Watch they frequently overheard anti-LGBT slurs from teachers and fellow students. While staff were supportive in some cases, in others, teachers specifically targeted LGBT students for abuse.

Some students felt sufficiently confident in themselves to express their sexual orientation or gender identity but received negative reactions from adults. In many cases, those who asked school staff about LGBT topics received ignorant or prejudiced responses from teachers that caused the students to think of their identities as pathological or problematic—exacerbating the fear and isolation they already felt.

Teachers’ Use of Anti-LGBT Slurs

Tanya K., a 17-year-old in her first year of university, said one of her high school teachers mentioned non-traditional sexual orientation on rare occasions and “in an insulting manner.”[56] Veronika A., a 17-year-old bisexual girl, said she heard similar comments from her high school teachers, and noted that “some teachers called non-heterosexual people ‘abnormal’ or even ‘dangerous.’”[57]

Many other students reported that their teachers expressed the view that LGBT people were “unnatural” or “immoral.” For example:

· Natalya P., 16, told us: “One teacher said it is unnatural, that God is shocked by such people, and that it is necessary to give birth to children, and unnecessary to feel sexual pleasure.”[58]

· Sasha D., a 15-year-old transgender boy, said, “My teachers spoke about homosexuality only in a negative way (‘It’s a sin,’ ‘It’s immoral’).”[59]

· Kirill G., a 16-year-old gay boy, said, “My biology teacher knew very little of LGBT and at times spewed some nonsense about how it’s ‘against the laws of nature’ and ‘those people are sick.’ And the social science teacher quoted the Bible and would not accept any other arguments.”[60]

· David O., 18, said, “My teacher once brought up the issue of homosexuality in class—[saying] it is personal business but that she does not support the upbringing of children in such families because the child will not be fully happy without a mother.”[61]

Some teachers equated being LGBT with having a disability. Nora T., a 17-year-old college student who identifies as pansexual, said that at the school she attended until she was 15-years-old, “The teachers spoke about LGBT people as people who need mental health care and that homosexualism is a mental illness.”[62]

Other teachers stated that LGBT people did not deserve to live, sometimes using words that could be taken as encouraging violence. Irina L., a 14-year-old lesbian in the 7th grade, told us her geometry teacher responded to a group of boys who were making fun of LGBT people by saying, “Such people should be killed.”[63]

Teachers often characterized LGBT people as a perversion imported from Western Europe or North America. Vera Y., a 16-year-old lesbian, said: “Our social studies teacher said it all came from America, and it is a perversion, and things should not be this way in Russia.” She also said that her teachers frequently denounced LGBT people in class, including a biology teacher who said homosexuality is “against the laws of nature.”[64]

Vasily A., a 15-year-old transgender boy, said his teachers bring up LGBT issues “often, but never in a positive way.” He added, “Our teachers say everything is getting bad, meaning that everything will be like in the US or Europe. They say people in the West are stupified by their tolerance. Their conclusion is, love = stupidity.”[65]

Some teachers used anti-LGBT slurs or other derogatory terms to refer to LGBT people. Raisa N., a 16-year-old girl from Sverdlovsk region who described herself as pansexual, reported that her teachers and classmates sometimes discussed LGBT people during breaks at school. “They spoke about one girl, like how she is ‘an example of what you shouldn’t be’ and how they ‘don’t know how she’d be able to live her life at all.’ Students and teachers used almost the same words—'monstrosity,’ ‘laughingstock,’ ‘Gayropa’ [an insult combining the English word ‘gay’ and the Russian word for Europe (Европа)].” Referring to the Austrian singer and drag artist who won the Eurovision Song Contest in 2014, she added, “They also spoke about Conchita Wurst, using absolutely negative comments bordering on hatred.”[66]

Describing her literature class when she was in the 9th grade, Yana T., an 18-year-old lesbian, said:

One day our teacher was lecturing about some writer and casually she said that he got married to a man. Everyone in the class chuckled, and she said with a nasty smile, “Well, in case you did not know, there are lot of those . . . pigeons now.” [“Pigeon” is an insulting slang word for gay.] All students in the class giggled again, and one boy shouted: “Not pigeons, but faggots!”’ It was disgusting.[67]

Teachers Targeting Students

In some cases, our interviewees told us teachers singled students out for criticism, telling them that their clothing, hairstyle, or mannerisms marked them as being gay, lesbian, or transgender, or simply abnormal. For instance, Vlad A., a 16-year-old in the 10th grade, said:

One of the teachers talked to me about my clothes and she told that only degraded, “lowered” men [prison slang for men forced to have sex with other men], meaning gays, wear skinny jeans. She said that I should dress differently so as not to look like them.

Another teacher once said that two boys who were holding hands during her class looked like gays. She said it to mock them.[68]

In another example, 15-year-old Irina R. told us:

Two of my friends often hugged as a joke . . . they looked like they were a couple. Teachers and other students paid attention to it, and said thing like: “C’mon, guys, you’re normal? We don't need anything like this in our school!”[69]

Natalya P., 16, described similar remarks by her teachers:

[One] teacher, when he saw two boys hug, started to tell this joke: “If one guy is gentle with another, castration is the way to go.” Another teacher was very angry when some girls wished another girl a happy birthday and kissed her. She said something like: “You’re acting like lesbians! The teachers are shocked by your behavior!” And she also once said to my classmate, a boy who grew his hair out, “You look gay!”[70]

Lev M., an 18-year-old transgender student, reported a comment from a teacher “who shouted at me in class, saying that I look neither like a man nor like a woman.”[71]

Other school staff also criticized students for their appearance. “Once I started going to school dressed like a guy, the guards at the entrance would harass me—they’d say, ‘As a girl, you should not dress like a guy, that’s not acceptable,’” Nikita R., a transgender 18-year-old man, said.[72]

Some teachers and other staff targeted students who were known to be LGBT with hateful comments. Pyotr E., a gay 16-year-old in St. Petersburg, told us:

My biology teacher raised the topic of LGBT people in class and began to say that they’re sick, watching my reaction. I did not start a discussion with him; it was evident this was a provocation. My geography teacher said in class that I'm a pervert and a sport of nature.[73]

In addition, after some of the parents of Pyotr’s classmates began to complain that their children should not have to attend school with a gay student, the principal threatened to expel Pyotr. Eventually, however, she dropped her threat. “She has just reconciled herself to my existence,” Pyotr said.[74]

Psychologists described similar accounts of verbal abuse and harassment by teachers. In one such case:

[A] teacher at school bullied both boys and girls . . . . If you’re a girl, he could say, “You look horrible. You should dress as a girl. You should look like this [as a girl].” If it was a boy, “Aren’t you a man? Are you some kind of a gay person?” He could start to bully one kid, and then, the whole class would continue his bullying targeting that kid. As a result, in the class, you could have different types of bullying of different intensity. Those victims who came to me afterwards had an emotional violence trauma. Very vivid bullying that was started by the teacher and then picked up by the classmates.[75]

Cautious Discussion of LGBT Issues

LGBT students told us that teachers who did discuss LGBT issues were often circumspect. Speaking of a discussion on same-sex marriage in her history class, Veronika A., the 17-year-old, said: “I would describe the teacher’s approach as ‘cautious’: the teacher obviously was afraid to hurt someone's feelings, because the topic of the rights and freedoms of the LGBT community in the modern Russian society is obviously quite painful.”[76] Raisa N., 16, gave another example:

We had several hours of sexual education [in the curriculum] . . . .Our teacher took a neutral position on this topic. [The discussion was] from a biological standpoint: “Homosexuality does exist, it is not a disease, and historical sources indicate that homosexuality has always existed.” Fortunately, the teacher did not impose his point of view and listened to ours. It surprised me, actually. The teacher told us that there is this [“gay propaganda”] legislation. My friend said that this law is unconstitutional because people are not allowed to express themselves, even though they have a right to. The teacher replied, “Russia cannot be understood with the mind alone.”[77]

Supportive School Staff

We heard of a few teachers who responded positively when students raised LGBT issues in class, which could put them at risk of violating the “gay propaganda” law. In one such case, 15-year-old Alina P. told us that her psychology class was discussing love and relationships. When the discussion turned to LGBT people, “the teacher said that in the modern world relationships aren’t always necessarily between a man and a woman and that there is nothing wrong about this.”[78]

Pyotr E., a 16-year-old gay boy, said:

Only two teachers protected me—my homeroom teacher and my geometry teacher. My geometry teacher banned the guy who insulted me in front of her from making up his tests. After this incident, I often had tea and cookies [with her] in her classroom.[79]

Some other students told us that their teachers intervened to stop bullying and harassment by classmates. For example, Kirill G., a gay 16-year-old, told us that his classmates began to mock him after a friend outed him at school. His teacher stepped in, he said. He added, “I think, according to the ‘propaganda’ law, she could not talk to them directly about this topic. So, she just threatened them with repercussions and reined them in. She did not speak directly on this topic with me either.”[80] Zinaida M., a 17-year-old bisexual girl, described her teachers as supportive of her relationship with her girlfriend and said, “There was a case when a girl tried to humiliate me in front of the whole class, but the teacher supported me and told her it’s not her business.”[81]

Hostile Environments

Anti-LGBT slurs and insults from other students are common, as discussed more fully in the “Treatment by Classmates” section, below. Asked what teachers did when students told anti-LGBT jokes or used words like “faggot” or “pigeon” (голубком) to refer to LGBT people, Yana T. replied, “NOTHING. They absolutely didn't care. They just asked for silence in the classroom.”[82] Pyotr E., 16, said that once some of his classmates slammed him against the wall in front of the school’s vice-principal. She ignored it and when he called her on it directly muttered something about kids “tripping on flat surfaces.”[83]

Other LGBT students described similar reactions from their teachers when they were harassed or bullied. Nikita N., who said he faced relentless abuse, including sexual harassment, from classmates at the school he had graduated from the previous year, told us, “Teachers at my school knew everything. I didn’t get any sympathy or help. They were openly hostile or indifferent. ‘Hey, kids can solve their problems themselves,’ they said.”[84]

In addition to bullying and harassment, LGBT students encounter various forms of discrimination in schools that make educational environments hostile or unwelcoming. Discrimination takes a toll on LGBT students’ mental health and ability to learn.

Transgender students face specific challenges when it comes to dress and self-expression. For example, some transgender students Human Rights Watch interviewed had experienced rigorous policing of how they dressed and expressed their gender at school. Such restrictions are particularly damaging and humiliating for transgender youth, as wearing gender-affirming clothing is an important part of social transition.

“I want to be like a normal teenager, just go to school, hang out, but every time I put on the uniform, I feel so bad that I literally do not want to leave the house,” said Vasily A., a 15-year-old transgender boy, adding that he has to wear a girl’s uniform to school because it is compulsory for all students at his school to wear uniforms. “At school no one but my [best] friend knows that I'm transgender . . . . I simply cannot tell the others because I want people to hang out with me, I don't want to be a pariah. But even the friend I came out to misgenders me,” he said.[85]

Transgender students are usually not able to use bathrooms that correspond to their gender identity, an additional humiliation. “I am embarrassed to go into the female bathrooms, but I cannot go into the male bathrooms without a fight. Even the administration forbade this,” Alexander N., a 16-year-old transgender boy, said.[86]

And transgender students who ask teachers to address them using the gender that matches their identity told us most of their teachers did not do so.[87] Similarly, a psychologist told us, “In my practice, I have never had a case when teachers . . . would refer to a transgender student with a name or gender he or she prefers. It has never happened.”[88]

Treatment by Classmates

Groups of my classmates would surround me and tell me: “Do you want to see what a real man looks like? We will put you in a dress and make you a proper woman.”
—Nikita R., an 18-year-old transgender man, August 2017

LGBT youth told Human Rights Watch their classmates often repeated the sterotypes, misinformation, and hostility pervasive in Russian media. For some, peers were a source of relative support and openness—compared with the responses of parents and teachers on issues of sexual orientation and gender identity. Others, however, faced harassment, bullying, and discrimination at the hands of their classmates. Teachers rarely intervened when they observed such abuse, LGBT students told us, adding that the indifference they observed from most teachers dissuaded them from complaining about it.

Nevertheless, some students explained that their friends and classmates were supportive. For example, 14-year-old Mikhail S. said, “All my [female] friends know about my sexual orientation. And I know about their sexual orientation too. I am really lucky to have such friends and environment. [Some of] the boys in my class know about that too and they have a good attitude to me.” However, not all students are that accepting: “[A] girl said to others that I want to become a guy and that I even have a girlfriend, so they began to laugh and scoff at me.” Mikhail described the experience of another LGBT student in the same school: “Other students are good to her, she is a very sociable person, she has many friends. Of course, there are those who sometimes bully her, shout bad things at her. But she's a very positive person, and she does not pay attention to them.”[89]

Others described how context determines the social attitudes they experience. Veronika A., a 17-year-old bisexual girl, said her school felt relatively safe: “I think the attitude of students in general is neutral. There were moderate homophobes, there were some gay-friendly people, but in general the attitude was calm.” She said, however, “In my neighborhood and in children’s summer camps, the attitude was much more hostile.”[90]

Vera Y., a 16-year-old lesbian in Moscow, told us that she was outed by two classmates:

During one frank conversation with my best friend, two of my classmates filmed it on video and sent to everyone. I do not remember very well what I was saying, like I told her about how I came to the conclusion that I am a lesbian, and how much easier I feel afterward. It was spread through chat on VKontakte [a social media platform similar to Facebook] to all my friends and also the acquaintances of those people that made this video.

After the video was posted online, a group of her classmates started to harass her. “They screamed in the corridor about my sexual orientation, they attempted to humiliate me morally. They often called me a prostitute, and it is also slut-shaming, which is doubly worse,” she said.[91]

Aleksey M., an 18-year-old pansexual university student, said his high school classmates had acted violently towards him because of his gender expression:

Everything was tense—I faced violence and non-acceptance . . . . Maybe it was because I had a short hair-cut and used male pronouns when I talked about myself. Several times, people at my school attempted to harass me sexually, trying to “change me.”[92]

David O., an 18-year-old gay university student in Moscow, described to Human Rights Watch how in his high school, classmates, due to their lack of education on sexual orientation and gender identity, defaulted to pejorative stereotypes:

All of [my classmates] are probably not ardent homophobes, but because of lack of information they revert to pre-programmed clichés. If you take only my class, most guys are between a “negative attitude” and “homophobes.” In a parallel class there was a girl, very well-integrated socially, who around grade 11 stopped hiding that she was a lesbian. Unfortunately, her classmates turned out to be very hostile, and there was constant ridicule. My classmates knew and talked about it behind her back. She took it quite poorly and attempted suicide.[93]

A psychologist who works with LGBT youth said almost every LGBT client she has ever had was “treated as if they were as scapegoats, clowns, or outcasts.”[94]

Some LGBT students experienced outright hostility from their classmates. “When other students heard rumours that I’m trans, they called me ‘it’ and made jokes like ‘even with a dick sewn on you won’t be a real man.’ But I’m glad nothing went further than words,” Sasha D., a 15-year-old transgender boy, told us, saying that he heard these kinds of comments nearly every day at one point.[95]

Others reported that they were teased and harassed, said that their classmates described them as sick or pitiful, or overheard anti-LGBT comments that led them to conceal their identities and live in fear of attack.

 “I'm the black sheep, in a sense. I have been overlooked for a long time. I do not exist for my classmates,” said Lev M., an 18-year-old transgender man in the 11th grade.[96] “Some of my current classmates think that homosexuality is an illness, and it's ‘not their fault.’. . .  Others believe that such people should be killed,” Raisa N. told us. Describing her school environment, she said:

It's not really a good place. No one will speak openly, but there are a lot of rumors behind your back, and it's a lot of pressure. It’s not a comfortable environment. And it’s be particularly difficult for transgender kids—I am sure, if some girl [biologically female] asks a teacher to use male pronouns in respect of her, it won’t be taken seriously, there will be denial, and it will only make things worse.[97]

Tanya K., a 17-year-old lesbian, said of her high school classmates, “They have a more negative attitude to gay men than to lesbians. We didn't have any visible LGBT persons at school [other than me], but the attitude was clear.”[98] Diana F., a 14-year-old lesbian, recounted: “My classmates did not believe me at first. Then they began to joke about me. Mostly, these were insults, but sort of subtle insults.”[99] Irina R., a 15-year-old girl, told us, “Some guys [at school] expressed their anger to LGBT people, threatened to beat a gay man, if they ever see one.”[100]

Some students hear comments from classmates suggesting that LGBT people should be killed. Nika T., a 17-year-old girl in her second year of college, said at the school she attended until she was 15 her classmates “said that these people should be killed and that they are not worthy to live.”[101] Thirteen-year-old Danya K. told us his classmates regularly said things like “this is not normal, this is a disease, and even that it’s better to ‘exterminate’ LGBT people.”[102]

As noted above, some teachers fail to protect LGBT students from harassment and violence, and in some cases even foster it. Kristina Z., a 16-year-old bisexual girl, said that her classmates began to harass her after teachers suggested that there was something wrong with her:

There is one teacher in our school . . . she made fun of me in front of the whole class, at first she made subtle hints, then she spoke directly, and then all the teachers began to insist that I need a psychologist. My classmates called me “Pink” [Розовая, a slang word used to refer to a lesbian].[103]

Survival Strategies

Over time, despite the deluge of misinformation from the government, families, teachers, and the internet, Russian LGBT youth interviewed by Human Rights Watch found ways to protect themselves. For example, Lev M., an 18-year-old transgender man in the 11th grade, said: “I would prefer always and everywhere to speak and to assert myself as male, but I'm afraid of violence. I always wear a large black hoodie, so that way I turn into a guy for people around me.”[104]

Georgy L., a 14-year-old transgender boy, gave us a list of places in and out of school where he spends as little time as possible. “School corridors, sports locker rooms, cafes and cinemas. In general, I avoid small crowded places where it’s easy to get to me and I can’t hide or escape,” he said, adding, “In the locker room I behave quietly and try not to attract any attention. But when they shout something after me, I just go away quickly, hiding on the stairs. It’s scary.”[105]

Many of the students Human Rights Watch interviewed said they avoided disclosing their sexual orientation or gender identity if possible. Alina P., a 15-year-old bisexual girl, said: “We are not open, because many students despise LGBT people.”[106] Irina L., a 14-year-old lesbian in the 7th grade, said that the handful of students in her school who were known to be LGBT faced bullying. To avoid the same treatment, she has told only a few people that she is attracted to girls. “Only those people who are definitely not homophobic know about my orientation. No one knows in my school because it is considered like something disgusting in Russia,” she told us.[107]

Similarly, a school psychologist told us, “You won’t find a gay boy at our school who will openly admit to being gay. This cannot happen at all.”[108]

LGBT youth who cannot hide their identities endure regular harassment. As one psychologist remarked of the transgender youth he works with:

When I talked to the clients who were transgender women, they told me that they got used to [being treated badly] . . . they are on their own, and . . . [when they get harassed], they usually make a joke out of it. They make jokes out of verbal or physical harassment they face. They surrender and that’s it—that is how they survive.[109]

Some students reported that they had a supportive core group of friends. For instance, Anton M., a 15-year-old gay boy in the 9th grade, said, “Most of my classmates know about me . . . . My classmates have a normal attitude toward me.” He added that the student body in general was not as supportive, saying, “Attitudes among students are different, but negative attitudes are the most noticeable.”[110] Georgy L. said: “Five of my friends support me. . . . They are the only people who call me by male pronouns and don't ask me questions about my gender and appearance,” he said.[111]

Larisa V., a 14-year-old who identifies as pansexual, described her Moscow high school as very open. “I can easily name about six LGBTQ [student body] members,” she said. Even so, she said students were not out to the school as a whole. “Normally we don’t show relationships in the school except [for] friendship,” she explained.[112]

Pyotr E., a 16-year-old gay 10th grader in St. Petersburg, said, “I do experience some problems, but they are not as severe as they were not so long ago . . . . At school I am out and everyone knows about my orientation. My family is also aware of it. Some people accept and love me, some still don’t accept me . . . . Now I have a higher position in the school hierarchy, and homophobes in school are trying to establish good relations with me. . . . That’s because I’ve changed. I’ve changed my behaviour and my character. I became stronger and showed them I didn’t care about their words or opinions.”[113]

Some older interviewees reported that the environment at universities and colleges was significantly better than that they had experienced in secondary school. Nonetheless, deep-seated social hostility against LGBT people, fueled in part by the “gay propaganda” law, continued to impinge on their sense of dignity and security.

For example, Nika T., a 17-year-old in her second year at college, said, “Here we have more tolerant teachers and LGBT people who openly speak about themselves.”[114] Veronika A., a 17-year-old bisexual girl in her first year of university, told us, “My friends know about my sexual orientation. Some of them were shocked at first, but in general they like, understand, and support me in spite of my identity.”[115]

Valentina D., an 18-year-old lesbian who was in her first year at university when we interviewed her, said, “At the university, the atmosphere seems much more tolerant. Рeople here are older, and they don't humiliate and hate someone because he or she is different. Here I feel much better than school.” Even so, she told us, “I can’t say that my environment is completely nice and friendly, I occasionally hear from my classmates, ‘You’re one of those? Phew, this is disgusting!,’ and so on.”[116] Similarly, Nika T., the 17-year-old, described her college classmates’ reactions to LGBT people as neutral or negative. “I’ve even met people who told me that if they are given permission to shoot LGBT people, they would do it happily,” she said.[117]

Interactions with School Psychologists

No child's safety or healthy development should depend on a chance encounter with a compassionate or knowledgeable adult. In Russia, however, that is often the case for youth exploring their sexual orientation or gender identity. Some students reported positive interactions with school psychologists; others recounted acrimonious or abusive encounters.

Irina R., a 15-year-old in the 9th grade, told Human Rights Watch that her school psychologist gave her information about same-sex sexual orientation. “When I told the psychologist that I was questioning my orientation, she absolutely calmly shrugged and asked: ‘And why are you so afraid? It is not a problem.’” She recounted that the psychologist helped her “to understand my orientation and to adjust my relationship with my parents.” She also said the school psychologist “has a positive attitude toward the LGBT community. She finally convinced me that this is normal.”[118]

However, other students who sought information and support from school mental health staff experienced the complete opposite.

Nikita R., an 18-year-old transgender man, said that when he was in secondary school, he visited the school mental health officer. “She showed me some pictures of abstract images and then just told me I was crazy,” he said. “They treated me like a little child—it was useless. I didn’t even tell them anything about my sexual orientation or gender identity. I just asked them once about the LGBT community in general.” The counselors responded to Nikita’s question by smiling. “They said, ‘Oh, that’s just a popular movement, a fashionable trend—but it’s a dead end.’ They told me a human wouldn’t want to be LGBT.” For Nikita, this experience remained scarring even as an adult:

From my experiences as a kid, I now generally try to avoid seeing mental health professionals. They told me so many times that my problem was my appearance, that I just can’t trust their analysis.[119]

One psychologist who works with LGBT youth and adults said: “[Some clients] have told me that they did not talk to school psychologists because they didn’t trust them.” She explained, “Those clients also felt that there might be some disagreement between them and school psychologists. I’ve always been the very first psychologist my clients talked to.”[120]

Adverse Impact on Education

Some LGBT children find their education curtailed as a consequence of the abuse they face. Valentina D., 18 and now in her first year of university, said that her high school environment was so hostile that she left:

The school was a living hell, I always felt an atmosphere of hatred, some teachers spoke out against LGBT people and my classmates supported them. I often faced rude insults, humiliating jokes—harsh words that can even be called threats . . . . It became so unbearable that I decided in my last year of school to transfer to self-education, and I studied and prepared for the final exams by myself.[121]

Alexander N., a 16-year-old transgender boy, left his college during his first year because of the harassment he faced from classmates. (Colleges in Russia are specialized two-year training schools for students who have chosen a vocational education track after finishing the 9th grade.) “[E]ntire groups of other students were bullying me. I had multiple nervous breakdowns when I grew tired of having to endure this,” he said.[122]

Others said that they only recognized the toll their school environment took on them, and the extent to which it impaired their ability to focus on their studies, once they left. “[M]y life at university has become completely different. It is much easier to breathe,” Aleksey M., 18, told us, adding that he found it easier to concentrate in class and participate in activities with classmates than he had in high school. “At university, I have a friendly, understanding environment,” he said.[123]

Human Rights Watch wrote to the Russian Ministry of Education and Ministry of Health to request information about protections for LGBT youth.[124] The Ministry of Education responded:

In accordance with Article 5 of the Federal Law of December 29, 2012 № 273 “On Education in the Russian Federation” every person is guaranteed the right to receive an education, regardless of gender, race, nationality, language, origin, property, social and official positions, place of residence, attitude to religion, beliefs, membership of public associations, as well as any other circumstances.[125]

The ministry added that it was responsible for ensuring that education was “based on the spiritual and moral values of the people of the Russian Federation, and historic and national-culture traditions” which included “awareness and acceptance of their traditional family values and awareness of the responsibility towards the family, society, state and humanity.”[126]

Such language of “traditional values” has historically been used by the Russian government to curtail human rights—both domestically and in international fora, such as the UN Human Rights Council.[127] For example, a 2012 Human Rights Council resolution that was spearheaded by Russia declared that “all cultures and civilizations in their traditions, customs, religions and beliefs share a common set of values.”[128] The resolution invokes a single, supposedly agreed-upon value system thereby neglecting considerations of diversity, ignoring the dynamic nature of traditional practice and customary laws, and undermines the basic rights of LGBT people.

 

III. Limited Access to Information

LGBT youth need information that their sexual orientation and gender identity is natural, and LGBT people are not a mistake.
—Natalya P., 16, December 2016

I was helped by being aware that I am not alone. That other LGBT people are not “gay Europeans in feathers” but ordinary boys and girls similar to me.
—David O., an 18-year-old gay man in Moscow, June 2018

In order to understand their own sexuality and to make responsible choices students need access to information about sexuality that is science-based, non-judgmental, and takes into account the whole range of human intimacy. When guidance at home or in school is limited, LGBT students turn to sources of uncertain quality for information about sexuality. When the state does not support schools and parents to provide necessary information and guidance to children and instead acts to restrict health-related education and information, including on sexual and reproductive health, it violates children’s rights to information, education, and health.

Students told Human Rights Watch that they sought information about LGBT identities, relationships, and sexual health from friends, the internet, and experience. Online sources of information are particularly important because of strong social taboos against open discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity, students told us.

But the availability and quality of online resources has been affected by the “gay propaganda” law. And as discussed in this report and in Human Rights Watch’s 2017 report Online and On All Fronts: Russia’s Assault on Freedom of Expression,[129] online information sources are often heavily monitored, censored, and biased—factors LGBT youth in Russia recounted in interviews.

LGBT youth and adults in Russia—as with nearly everywhere in the world—often meet peers online, where they feel safe exchanging information and expressing their identities and feelings. Since enactment of the “gay propaganda” law, however, authorities have cracked down on online meeting spaces as well as websites that contain information on sexual orientation or gender identity or sexual health.

Despite the new restrictions, however, the internet remains a critical resource for LGBT youth.  

“The main source of information for me is the internet,” 17-year-old Veronika A. told us,[130]  a comment we heard frequently. Taras P., a 15-year-old in the 9th grade, said she gets most of her information on LGBT issues from Wikipedia.[131] Similarly, Nika T., a 17-year-old college student, told us that at age 14, when she began to question her  sexual orientation, she scoured the internet for articles by psychologists.[132] Kirill G., a 16-year-old boy who had dropped out of school due to the hostile anti-LGBT environment, explained: “I find peace of mind only in the virtual world, or when talking with [my] boyfriend.”[133]

For some, the most important information they find online is that which affirms the most basic truth of their identities—that they are perfectly normal the way they are. “The most useful thing I found online [was] that being LGBT [is] absolutely normal. Apparently, I was lucky, because now I often come across negative information, negative statements about LGBT,” said Irina R., 15.[134] “I can only find the information I need on the internet. I can’t contact psychologists for help,” said Georgy L., a 14-year-old transgender boy in the 8th grade.[135]

Others explained how the internet offered them privacy and the freedom to explore the questions they had without risking an abusive encounter with an adult or peer. “I've been looking for information on the internet. Gender identity and sexual orientation are not topics about which you can ask teachers or read any books in the school library. People often (almost always) look at me with incomprehension, discussing me. Teachers just ignore me,” Vasily A., a 15-year-old transgender boy, told us.[136] Sasha D., a 15-year-old transgender boy in the 9th grade, had a similar account. “I learned about [the concept of being transgender] when I was 11. I became a teenager and started to experience gender dysphoria. I didn’t have anyone to ask, so I found all the information on the internet.”[137]

And for others, thanks to online counseling services such as Deti-404, the internet became a place of life-saving refuge.

Deti-404

When I found Deti-404, I was 13 years old. I was suddenly no longer lost. I finally had a resource that told me who I was. I didn’t need the internet to understand bisexuality, but I needed it for gender identity—that didn’t make sense to me until I had some information. It was a relief to know there were other people like me in the world.
—Nikita R., 18-year-old bisexual transgender man, August 2017

Deti-404 is an online group that offers psychological support, advice, and a safe community for LGBT children, including those who experience violence and aggression because of their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. The group was founded in response to the “gay propaganda” law and has become one of the law’s primary victims.

Youth access Deti-404’s resources through a Vkontakte group, where they can chat with each other or ask to chat with a psychologist. The site retains a network of between 30 and 40 volunteer psychologists who are available to support youth via chat or audio messaging such as Skype, or can refer them to local mental health services where available.

“Deti” means “children” in Russian. The “404” in the group’s title is a reference to the standard internet “error 404” message indicating that a webpage cannot be found. In combination, “Deti-404” can be read as a reference to the children erased by law and official policies. The group was created on VKontakte in April 2013 by Elena Klimova, an LGBT activist from Nizhny Tagil, in the Sverdlovsk region. The Deti-404 group had nearly 97,000 members in mid-November 2018.[138]

Even as Deti-404’s name is commentary on censorship and official denial, the group itself ironically has become one of the main targets of that censorship.

In August 2015, a court in Barnaul, Siberia, found that information shared among group members violated the law protecting “the informational security of children,” and banned the group. VKontakte subsequently removed access to the group’s page.[139] In September 2015, Deti-404 started a new VKontakte group under the same name, but yet another court ruling ordered the new group taken down as well. In April 2016, Deti-404 started yet a third group on VKontakte. At this writing, that online group was operational.[140] However, Deti-404’s website—www.deti404.com—has been blocked since October 2016 following a court decision.[141] Each time the government has attempted to censor Deti-404, the group’s administrators have creatively moved it to a different space on the internet.

For some children, engagement with Deti-404 has facilitated self-acceptance. “I accepted myself with the help of Deti-404. And I realized that I am not a ‘mistake,’” said Danya K., a 13-year-old gay boy in the 8th grade.[142] For others, it has been a place where they could learn survival strategies to keep themselves safe amid hostile environments at home and at school. For example, 14-year-old Mikhail S. said:

I learned about how parents react when they find out about the sexual orientation of their children. I realized that I need to be cautious and I don't have to humiliate myself because of this. I realized I am not the only one. There are lot of us and everyone has his or her own story.[143]

Other LGBT youth told Human Rights Watch they found the network to be a life-saving resource and felt afraid that the government might eliminate it.

I was wondering what it is and why they want to close it, and that's how I found it,” she said.[144] Because of this law [the “gay propaganda” law] the group Deti-404 was being shut down at a time when it was the only support I could get,” 15-year-old Taras P. said.[145] Irina L., age 14, told us, “It will increase the number of suicides among LGBT teens, as they will not be able to ask for help.”[146] Danya K., the 13-year-old, said that he relied on Deti-404 when he first realised he was gay. If the information he found on their website were not available, “it would be a serious problem, because Deti-404 provides great support for LGBT teenagers,” he said.[147]

Russian officials have denied that LGBT youth in Russia face discrimination—in some cases, by denying that youth can experience “non-traditional” sexual orientation or gender identity at all. For example, in April 2016, the children's rights ombudsperson of St. Petersburg, Svetlana Agapitova, said at a meeting with legislators:

[T]here is no discrimination against LGBT teenagers in our country and there is no problem of gender identity for boys and girls. What is more, there was no sexual orientation in children. Thus, due to specific Russian mentality, sexual orientation turns on after 18, and until 18, they are just kids.[148]

Agapitova told legislators her office defended the rights of all children but had never received any complaints from LGBT youth about allegations of rights violations against them.[149]

In response to this statement, the Deti-404 founder and administrator, Lena Klimova, wrote to Agapitova outlining the issues Deti-404 volunteers had documented among their youth members over the years. Klimova closed her appeal to the ombudsperson’s office by saying:

I hope after that you will stop saying that LGBT teens are not discriminated against in Russia as they are, and that sexual orientation turns on after 18 as this is not true. I hope that you will stop ignoring existence of LGBT teenagers and that of their problems, especially in public. You are the Ombudswoman for Children. You said that you stand up for all children. Please keep in mind these children too.[150]

In reply to Klimova’s letter, Agapitova clarified that that her remark that children had no sexual orientation was not her private opinion, but rather her description of the official position of Russian authorities, Klimova told Human Rights Watch. “Svetlana Agapitova reassured me that children and teenagers dealing with any problems, including those of sexual and gender identity, could seek her help,” said Klimova. She also told Human Rights Watch that Agapitova, in a private conversation, reassured her that all teenagers who address the ombudsperson’s office would be would receive help and all allegations of abuses would be investigated without bias.[151]

 

IV. Mental Health Consequences

While Russian government officials and parliament members claim that the goal of the “gay propaganda” law is to protect children from potentially harmful subject matter, the law directly harms children by denying them access to essential information and fostering stigma against LGBT children and their families.

In June 2017, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the law violated the rights to freedom of expression and freedom from discrimination guaranteed in the European Convention on Human Rights.[152] During the court’s proceedings, Dr. Ilan Meyer, an internationally renowned scholar in social psychology specializing in minority populations, submitted testimony disputing claims that the law has legitimate aims and can accomplish those aims.

Dr. Meyer wrote that “the propaganda law does not advance any legitimate goal in protecting the health of youth because there is no supportable connection between the means (suppressing homosexual propaganda) and the alleged goals (protecting the health of youth).” He continued: “Should Russia aim to improve the health and well-being of its citizens and address the public health areas noted in the Foundation’s brief, interventions that are the exact opposite of what the propaganda law dictates would be required.” He added: “Furthermore, laws such as Russia’s propaganda law can have serious negative impact on the health and well-being of homosexual youth and adults in that the law increases and enshrines stigma and prejudice, leading to discrimination and violence, and, thus, increasing risk for mental distress and suicide ideation.”[153]

Mental health professionals told Human Rights Watch that the number of LGBT youth seeking mental health support has increased since 2013. A social worker observed that after the law was enacted, “Our work grew. . . . I see a connection between the growth in our activity [the inscreasing demand for counselling] and the law.”[154]

“There is more fear and anxiety among LGBT community and kids,” one psychologist said. She noted that the increase in media coverage of the law was, for many, an introduction to issues of sexual orientation and gender identity, but in terms that were overwhelmingly pejorative. She said, “On the one hand, people have started to talk about it. On the other, they talk on this issue solely in a negative context. . . . The whole situation is polarizing, not in a healthy way.”[155]

Research in other countries has found that lack of support contributes to negative mental health outcomes; in one study, lesbian, gay and bisexual students in environments with fewer supports like gay/straight alliances, inclusive anti-bullying policies and inclusive non-discrimination policies were 20 percent more likely to attempt suicide than those in more supportive environments.[156] Studies have suggested that “[a] higher risk for suicide ideation and attempts among LGB groups seems to start at least as early as high school.”[157] For LGBT youth, isolation and exclusion can be as detrimental as bullying and can aggregate over time to create an unmistakably hostile environment. In recent years, psychologists have drawn attention to these types of incidents—or “microaggressions”—and the way they collectively function to adversely affect development and health.[158]

The Consequences of Sustained Hostility

When students experience stigmatization, hostility, and rejection over years of schooling, the cumulative effect can be devastating and long-lasting. Psychological research has suggested that “circumstances in the environment, especially related to stigma and prejudice, may bring about stressors that LGBT people experience their entire lives.”[159] The cases documented in this report portend a protracted crisis for LGBT people in Russia, as the trauma inflicted on them during childhood may adversely affect them for the rest of their lives.

“No one wants to get beaten on the street, but that’s the fear LGBT people in Russia live with now,” Nikita R., an 18-year-old transgender man, told Human Rights Watch. “We know that most people believe the mass media, and the stories there teach them that we are horrible creatures, so we are in danger all the time.”[160]

Some students said their mental health suffered significantly during their struggles to come to terms with their sexual orientation or gender identity. Maya N., a 17-year-old, told Human Rights Watch that she attempted suicide in late 2016, a few months before we spoke.[161] Taras P., a 15-year-old bigender student, told Human Rights Watch he had attempted suicide twice.[162] Kirill G., a 16-year-old gay boy, tried to kill himself once; he said that although he no longer had thoughts of killing himself, he still suffered from depression. “I do not see any future for myself,” he said.[163]

Fourteen-year-old Mikhail S. described her struggle to come to terms with same-sex attraction, overcoming fear instilled by the anti-LGBT atmosphere in Russia: “I had depression, panic, because that was the first time when I realized that I fell in love with a girl.”[164] Larisa V., a 14-year-old pansexual girl, told Human Rights Watch that she spent two months in a clinic for mental health issues she linked in retrospect to her sexual orientation; in addition, she cut herself for a time after inadvertently coming out to her parents.[165] Lev M., an 18-year-old transgender man, said: “At some point, I lost interest in life, so my existence, which I can't even call a life, does not have any sense.”[166] Other students also described inflicting harm on themselves.[167]

Similarly, psychologists described cases in which LGBT youth attempted or considered suicide, cut themselves, or behaved aggressively toward others because of anxieties about their sexual orientation or gender identity.[168] Students also recounted cases of classmates or other acquaintances who attempted suicide or engaged in other acts of self-harm after they were outed.[169]

In some cases, students said that abuse at school contributed to their struggles with mental well-being. Arseny D., a 15-year-old transgender boy, said that after daily verbal harassment at school, “I had nervous breakdowns because of it, a couple of times teachers released me from classes.” He was hospitalized because of the nervous breakdowns, he told us. “I started having constant headaches and my blood pressure jumped. The doctors in the hospital said it was due to constant emotional exhaustion, I was tossed from one extreme to another.”[170]

Some students said the hostile school environment made them feel as if they were under siege and put them on the defensive. Sixteen-year-old Kristina Z., a bisexual girl, said that her behavior changed after her teachers and classmates started to mock her because of her sexual orientation:

At school, because of my quick temper, I put up a fight for the slightest hint about my orientation. When I walked down the hallway, first-graders screamed after me that I was a lesbian. I began to rebel. Smoked straight out of the classroom window, said rude things to teachers. I was getting worse and worse. I had never been like this before. The last straw was when I had a fight with a classmate. The police were called; I was put on the police account [a special police registry for “deviant minors”] for six months. Now I am under observation, like in custody.[171]

The Importance of Mental Health Professionals

LGBT youth and the psychologists who work with them told Human Rights Watch the counseling relationship is very valuable. For example, one psychologist explained that mental health professionals who work with LGBTyouth are an important source of support—and sometimes the only source of affirmative or sensitive care the children encounter, even after they have experienced harassment, threats, or violence. She described one example:

Two weeks ago, two 17-year-old girls were walking and hugging near the city center here. Police stopped them and threatened them, asked them for documents, threatened to tell their parents and schools about their affection. They took down their addresses and other details and now the girls are afraid—what comes next? Will they show up at their homes? One already has a really tense relationship with her parents and she’s worried about the police making it worse. [172] 

This psychologist noted that even in clinical settings, LGBT youth are terrified that their sexual orientation will be exposed, resulting in ill-treatment. She said: “Girls were extremely afraid when they came to me. One of them was even afraid to wait outside my door while I was with another client because she didn’t want to be identified as my client [because this psychologist is known for meeting with LGBT patients]—so I had to search the hallways for her.[173] 

This psychologist, who has more than a decade of professional experience, explained that, “In cases of family violence, when police find out that boys have been beaten by their parents for being gay—the police see that as a valid reason for beating him and don’t take the case seriously.” She outlined two cases, one in which a boy was raped by a stranger, and another in which a boy was forced to perform oral sex on his male peers. In both cases, police failed to investigate, the psychologist said, and the cases only came to her attention later when the survivors were referred for mental health treatment following suicide attempts.[174]

Other psychologists reflected on the lack of support for LGBT youth. “Usually they tell me they don’t have any adult that can support them,” a psychologist in Perm said. “This is why Deti-404 is so important—it helps children find at least one adult who can accept and support them. It’s really important that Deti-404 volunteers are adults, so we can break down stereotypes among the kids that we’re trying to help.” Some children, she explained, are looking for answers to very basic questions. Others are seeking survival strategies. “They usually have some questions like ‘I like another girl in my class . . . am I a lesbian? Can you give me a diagnosis?’” she said.They come to me with stereotypes, not necessarily about sexual orientation and gender identity concepts itself, but myths about how their parents and society are allowed to treat them because of their identity.” She said children often inquire about what their parents can and cannot do to them. “They ask me things like: can my parents send me to a psychiatric institution? Do I have to allow them to do that? So, when they’re 15 or younger, I have to tell them that their parents can legally send them to a hospital without their consent,” she said.[175]

Many certified mental health professionals share societal prejudices, fear, and ignorance on issues of sexual orientation and gender identity. One psychologist said that during annual mandatory continuing education sessions, “When I talk about the work on such topics as sexual orientation and gender identity, [others in the session] sometimes tend to say things that do not make any sense. For example, they believe the myth that if a girl is a lesbian, it is likely that her father raped her.” This psychologist worried: “I can’t tell what their clients experience, but taking into account what they say during those trainings and how fiercely they stand for what they say, I suppose they might use the same rhetoric with their clients.”[176]

A psychologist in Moscow told Human Rights Watch that her LGBT clients often reported that they struggled to find mental health care because therapists they visited attributed whatever symptoms they showed to their sexual orientation or gender identity—and focused almost exclusively on measures to change their sexuality. She recounted a case in which a client came to her for grief counseling:

[This client had] come to terms with her sexual orientation and her parents had long accepted it, but she was dealing with the death of her lover . . . . And for her, grief counseling was essential. And I was the fourth psychologist that she came to, because everyone else was trying to work on her orientation instead of the issue that she came with. Unfortunately, this is a persistent problem and it often becomes an obstacle for reaching out to specialists . . . that a specialist psychologist will see the problem not in the issue which the child or adult comes in with, but in the person’s orientation, and will instead try to cure them of this “disease.”[177]

Chilling Effect on Mental Health Providers

We cannot publicly and openly talk about the fact that we work with LGBT teenagers . . . . But in actual communication with teenagers nothing changed. The only thing is that we understand that there may be provocations. So, in any case, if a teenager reaches out we try to somehow find out . . . whether this is a genuine query or whether it is an attempt to sabotage. And usually it is a genuine query, of course, but there were some cases of very odd queries where we understood that the person on the other line was not who he said he was.
—A social worker in Moscow, March 2018

Many of the psychologists interviewed by Human Rights Watch said that the “gay propaganda” law had a chilling effect on their ability to counsel clients grappling with questions of sexual orientation or gender identity. As one psychologist told Human Rights Watch, “In general, the law just makes psychologists afraid to work with LGBT adults and youth. That is the biggest impact of the law.”[178]

A social worker suggested that the law “is an effective means of intimidation.” She explained that “it really affected specialists, and many of them are now scared to work with this topic [of LGBT issues] . . . are scared to bring it up in schools and to talk about it.”[179]

Another psychologist said that working with LGBT youth puts professionals in a potentially precarious position. He explained, “The work with teenagers is ‘half-legal’ in this country. One can probably work anonymously online, for free. If you work professionally, it is important to include parents in the process.” He added, “If you work only with a teenager, you risk a lot.”[180]

For example, one psychologist recounted an instance in 2014 in which she was working at an LGBT community center when police came in undercover to see if the mental health staff were meeting with children. “They told us they were tipped off by an anonymous complaint on livejournal [a social media website],” she said. In order to protect herself against fines and interference by the authorities, the psychologist now issues a disclaimer about her work:

I tell all child clients of mine about the propaganda law and that I cannot distribute such propaganda. I also tell parents of children this. It’s a disclaimer: if you hear something that you think is ‘gay propaganda,’ please tell me and I can clarify. I don’t want them to go to the police. I cover the LGBT books on my shelf in my office during consultations with kids, so I can’t be accused of spreading propaganda.[181]

Other providers told Human Rights Watch that they were anxious about working with younger clients because of a pattern of attempts to ensnare mental health providers for violating the “gay propaganda” law. A psychologist who works with Deti-404 explained: “If I work with someone on Vkontakte [online]—for example, when people write me from fake accounts or by email—I check if it is a set-up or not. I’ve had those situations.”[182] She said: “Certainly, I censor what I write to people. There were some provocations carried out by adults.” This psychologist explained how she instructed newcomer volunteers at Deti-404 to be careful:

When we talk about LGBT topics, I instruct them what they can do and what they can’t, what rights they have under Russian law . . . . I have to mitigate anxiety among psychologists. This is something that appeared after the law was adopted. This kind of instructions I have developed from the years of experience working with [lawyers].[183]

Another psychologist described how even in situations where it is clinically relevant to discuss a child client’s sexual orientation, he feels constrained by the law:

Adoption of the law has made my work more difficult. Teenagers often wait for me to ask a direct and precise question about his or her sexual orientation or gender identity, but the law prevents me from doing that. First, I have to wait until the issue is raised by the adolescents themselves. Even when I have a suspicion about what is going on, I cannot ask questions about of sexual orientation and gender identity as it might put me in trouble.[184]

Another psychologist who works on an LGBT mental health phone hotline said the “gay propaganda” law forced him to talk with clients “rather abstractly.” She told Human Rights Watch, “When I pick up a hot line call, right away, I explain that there is this law and that I have to continue the discussion using a certain vocabulary. I explain that if something is not clear, I can elaborate on that, but still, using a certain vocabulary because it might put me in danger.”[185] 

Another psychologist said: “When I worked at a public organization, I had to rephrase the sentences. I did my best to avoid using certain types of information [including information relating to sexual orientation and gender identity] when I had to fill out medical cards and other documents.” She explained that she did this “because the prosecutor’s office could come with an audit.”[186]

Others described the impact of the law as systematically eroding confidence between LGBT youth and mental health providers. A psychologist who has worked with Deti-404 and local LGBT groups for more than five years explained: “The whole situation is just worsening. As of today, teachers and teachers-psychologists are not allowed to speak positively [on LGBT topics]. They can’t just say to a kid, ‘Hey, everything is normal with you.’ Kids I work with do not even think to visit a school psychologist. Only if they feel they can talk to that psychologist about anything, and that’s an exception.”[187]

A social worker who coordinates referrals to psychologists and runs a support group for LGBT youth said: “In general, even in Moscow, the teenagers do not risk raising this subject [of homosexuality] with specialists—and I think they are right to behave that way.” She said the “gay propaganda” law had impacted how specialist psychologists viewed their work. “The specialists are mainly scared by this law. They are scared to work, although this law doesn’t directly threaten them and they . . . well, it isn't applicable to psychological practice, but specialists don’t realize this and many of them are scared.” [188]

A minority of psychologists Human Rights Watch interviewed explained that they do not let such concerns affect their work. For example, a psychologist in Vladivostok said:

I don’t see a point in using different wording, because if we interpret the law as it is . . . if I say that what is happening with [a client] is normal, then this will not be “propaganda.” This would be an acceptance of a child. . . . Primarily for me it is the ethics of a psychologist, which I follow. That’s it. That’s why there is absolutely no point in changing a wording. I obviously check the age and try to, if it is possible, to ask that the kids bring permission [slips] from their parents. This, of course, will not protect, but just in case, it says something like “the mother does not oppose that the child attends,” for example, “a support group.”[189]

Barriers to Accessing Support Groups and LGBT Organizations

The rationale driving the “gay propaganda” law—the protection of children from information about LGBT lives—has resulted in LGBT organizations imposing strict age limits in order to protect themselves from prosecution. A social worker who runs a hotline and several support groups said, “According to the law, we have to put the ‘18+’ age marker everywhere.”[190] As a result, young people’s ability to access services, community support, and information is curtailed, exacerbating the isolation many of them already feel.

Even before the introduction of the law, resources for LGBT youth were limited because many LGBT community centers only served adults. A psychologist described what these age restrictions mean for youth, citing the example of a 15-year-old girl who contacted her:

She called because she was afraid of coming out to her family and friends, who she knew would react negatively. She was struggling to accept the fact that she is lesbian and as a result, she developed self-hatred. We had meetings about once every two weeks for three months. We are looking for support networks beyond internet-based ones for this girl, because for her coming out to parents and friends does not seem to be an option. She wants to meet peers, but the local LGBT community center only takes in those who are 18 years or older, so her options are very limited. I think . . . generally . . . there is a lot of useful information online, but in this girl’s case it’s not sufficient.[191]

LGBT youth confirmed to Human Rights Watch that they had experienced rejection from some support groups on the basis of their age. For example, Dmitry L., a 19-year-old gay college student, explained:

The “gay propaganda” law is very disturbing. When the law passed, I was 14 and this momentum kind of pushed me to learn more about LGBT [issues] . . . . It’s very difficult for me to compare how it was before the adoption of the law. But, for example, when I was 16 I was in need of urgent psychological assistance, every large organization refused to work with me, except Deti-404 . . . . I know that many of adult activists worry about it and still try to include teenagers in their work one way or another, but it is a very big responsibility.[192]

Discriminatory Attitudes Among Mental Health Professionals

Some LGBT youth told us they have experienced ignorance, prejudice, and stereotypes even when interacting with mental health providers. Arseny D., a 15-year-old transgender boy in the 9th grade, told us, “Our society doesn’t even understand gay people, and they treat trans people like schizophrenics. I asked psychologists about trans issues and gender, and no one gave me any answer . . . . It sounds funny, but I was the one who explained to them what the word ‘transgender’ means. They didn’t know about the issue and couldn’t help me.”[193]

A psychologist who has worked with LGBT clients for more than five years said that she has simultaneously worked on raising awareness among and educating other mental health professionals about issues of sexual orientation and gender identity. “Unfortunately, the state of things is terrifying. When I have a chance to participate in a round table with the [regional] ombudsman, the chief physician of the regional psychiatric hospital was also there, and when we discussed transgender issues, they make the conversation about Conchita Wurst,” she said, referring to the artist who won the Eurovision Song Contest in 2014. “They say that [what she is doing] is unacceptable. And I realize that if those bright minds spew this nonsense, then lower-lever people must be even worse than that. No one knows what they actually say when they work with their clients,” the psychologist said. She also recounted the case of a sexologist in the city where she lives who tells LGBT clients to “move to Europe” and that their “children should be exiled to Siberia.”[194]

Other psychologists who work regularly with LGBT youth clarified that most of their colleagues are not hostile to LGBT people but are unfamiliar with LGBT issues. “[M]ost programs of psychological education don’t have room for contemporary gender studies, nor for sexology or topics concerning sexuality at all,” one said.[195]

The law has reinforced preexisting negative stereotypes, including within the mental health profession, psychologists told us. Training resources published in Russian are often limited and stigmatizing, another psychologist said, adding, “The Russian psychological school is still far behind . . . years behind the western one.”[196] Another psychologist, who works with LGBT youth clients independently and at a school in Moscow, recounted how she had been in meetings with fellow mental health professionals who had derided a transgender child’s desire to transition and express his gender identity:

In the conversation about the transgender people, it went like this: “No, well, what the fuck? Did he lose his mind? He wants to fuck girls, okay so he can fuck them. But she was Olya, so it should stay Olya. Why is she screwing with our brains? Why Vasya, now?” And this is an environment where teenagers go, all the variety of teenagers . . . .[197]

 

V. Russia’s Legal Obligations

Russia’s “gay propaganda” laws “reinforce stigma and prejudice and encourage homophobia, which is incompatible with the notions of equality, pluralism and tolerance inherent in a democratic society,”[198] as the European Court of Human Rights concluded in a 2017 case. These laws violate the right to freedom from discrimination and impermissibly infringe on the rights of children and adults to freedom of expression and association.

In addition, as demonstrated in this report and elsewhere, the “gay propaganda” laws contribute to violence and other forms of harassment against LGBT youth, in violation of the rights to security of person and freedom from violence, the right to health, and the right to education.

Russia also has an obligation to assist parents to fulfil their responsibilities to care for their children in a way that respects children’s emerging autonomy and their rights to an identity, freedom of expression, and freedom from discrimination, among other rights.

Freedom of Expression

Everyone has the right to freedom of expression, children as well as adults,[199] and states are under an obligation to ensure this right and other human rights.[200] The UN Human Rights Committee, the authority charged with interpreting the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, has observed that freedom of expression is “indispensable . . . for the full development of the person” and is “essential for any society.”[201] Expression of identity and association with peers are particularly important for adolescents as they develop a sense of self and begin their transition to adulthood.[202]

The right to freedom of expression extends to “all forms of expression and the means of their dissemination.”[203] The form of expression can be non-verbal—not only images and art, but also dress, hairstyle, and other aspects of one’s own appearance and personal style.[204] The means of expression include postings on websites and social media.[205] Expression can be about anything—political views, religious beliefs or other moral convictions, ordinary communication in the course of daily life—and may even be deeply offensive.[206] As the Council of Europe’s Steering Committee for Human Rights has observed, “authorities have a positive obligation to take effective measures to protect and ensure the respect of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons who wish to . . . express themselves, even if their views are unpopular or not shared by the majority of the population.”[207]

The right to freedom of expression includes the right to seek and receive information and ideas of all kinds.[208] The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe has noted the right to seek and receive information includes “information on subjects dealing with sexual orientation and gender identity.”[209] In recognition of the children’s particular need for information, the Convention on the Rights of the Child requires states to ensure children’s “access to information and materials from a diversity of national and international sources.”[210] Children also have an explicit right to health information.[211]

Noting that “social and digital media [have] become the primary means through which [adolescents] communicate and receive, create and disseminate information,” the Committee on the Rights of the Child observes:

Adolescents use the online environment, inter alia, to explore their identity, learn, participate, express opinions, play, socialize, engage politically and discover employment opportunities. In addition, the Internet provides opportunities for gaining access to online health information, protective support and sources of advice and counselling and can be utilized by States as a means of communicating and engaging with adolescents. The ability to access relevant information can have a significant positive impact on equality.[212]

States can place restrictions on expression only in specific circumstances—to respect the rights or reputation of others or for the protection of national security, public order, public health, or morals.[213] Restrictions on expression for other reasons are not permissible under international law, and restrictions for permitted purposes must be “provided by law,” necessary to achieve the permitted purpose, and proportionate to that objective.[214]

Russia has attempted to justify the “gay propaganda” laws by stating that they avert harm to “the rights and legal interest of others, primarily minors,”[215] and protect the health and morals of children.[216]

The “gay propaganda” laws fail to meet each of the conditions for restricting the right to freedom of expression. As the European Commission for Democracy through Law (known as the Venice Commission), the Council of Europe’s advisory body on constitutional matters, concluded after analyzing “gay propaganda” laws enacted or proposed in Russia and other Council of Europe member states:

On the whole, it seems that the aim of these measures is not so much to advance and promote traditional values and attitudes towards family and sexuality but rather to curtail non-traditional ones by punishing their expression and promotion.[217]

Similarly, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe observed in 2013 that “gay propaganda” laws “are at variance with freedom of expression and the prohibition of discrimination on account of sexual orientation and gender identity [and] risk legitimising the prejudice and hostility which is present in society and fuelling a climate of hatred against LGBT people.”[218]

The Requirement of Legality

A restriction on expression is not adequately “provided by law” if it is vague: as the Human Rights Committee has observed, the restriction “must be formulated with sufficient precision to enable an individual to regulate his or her conduct accordingly . . . . Laws must provide sufficient guidance to those charged with their execution to enable them to ascertain what sorts of expression are properly restricted and what sorts are not.”[219] Analysing the analogous requirement in the European Convention on Human Rights, the European Court of Human Rights has stated, “a norm cannot be regarded as a ‘law’ unless it is formulated with sufficient precision to enable the citizen to regulate his conduct: he must be able—if need be with appropriate advice—to foresee, to a degree that is reasonable in the circumstances, the consequences which a given action may entail.”[220]

In addition, any restrictions on expression “must also themselves be compatible with the provisions, aims and objectives” of the human rights treaties.[221] In particular, discriminatory restrictions on expression are not permissible,[222] including discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.[223] Restrictions that are applied in an arbitrary manner are also impermissible.[224]

The “gay propaganda” laws are vaguely written and inconsistently applied, despite efforts by the Russian courts to narrow their scope.[225] In an indication of the laws’ lack of clarity, some activists have received convictions for messages with similar or identical content to those in cases that resulted in acquittals. As the Venice Commission concluded:

It is thus not clear from the case law applying these provisions, whether the terms “prohibition of homosexual propaganda” have to be interpreted restrictively, or whether they cover any information or opinion in favour of homosexuality, any attempt to change the homophobic attitude on the part of the population towards gays and lesbians, any attempt to counterbalance the sometimes deeply rooted prejudices, by disseminating unbiased and factual information on sexual orientation.[226]

Adopting the conclusions of the Venice Commission, the European Court of Human Rights observed in Bayev v. Russian Federation that Russia’s “gay propaganda” laws are “expressed in terms not susceptible to foreseeable application.”[227]

What is clear, however, is that the laws are discriminatory, both intentionally and in effect. In the Venice Commission’s analysis:

[T]he prohibition of “propaganda of homosexuality” is obviously linked to the question of sexual orientation. First, the prohibition in question restricts speech propagating or promoting homosexual/lesbian sexual orientation. Secondly, it seems that the prohibition would more often, although not necessarily, affect persons of homosexual/lesbian sexual orientation, who have a personal interest in arguing for toleration of homosexual/lesbian sexual orientation and its acceptance by the majority.[228]

The Human Rights Committee concluded in a 2012 decision that the “gay propaganda” law enacted by Russia’s Ryazan region was discriminatory.[229] Similarly, the European Court of Human Rights has found, most recently in its 2017 judgment, that Russia’s “gay propaganda” laws embody “predisposed bias, unambiguously highlighted by [their] domestic interpretation and enforcement.”[230]

The Requirements of Necessity and Proportionality

It is not sufficient to point only to a legitimate basis for limiting freedom of expression; a state that seeks to impose restrictions on this right “must demonstrate in specific and individualized fashion the precise nature of the threat” and “establish[] a direct and immediate connection between the expression and the threat.”[231] The connection should be established “based on reasonable and objective criteria.”[232]

The test of necessity is not met if a legitimate aim can be achieved in a way that does not restrict freedom of expression,[233] or if less restrictive means are available to achieve the legitimate aim.[234]

Overly broad restrictions do not meet the requirement of proportionality. Describing this requirement, the Human Rights Committee has stated that restrictions “must be appropriate to achieve their protective function; they must be the least intrusive instrument amongst those which might achieve their protective function; they must be proportionate to the interest to be protected.”[235]

The “gay propaganda” laws do not meet the requirements of necessity and proportionality. The explanatory memoranda accompanying the federal “gay propaganda” law “do not provide any evidence of harm that may result for minors,” the Venice Commission observed.[236]

The Need for a Legitimate Ground for Restriction

The right to freedom of expression may only be restricted for one of the reasons specified in the human rights treaties. Defending the propanganda laws in cases before the Human Rights Committee and the European Court of Human Rights, Russia suggested that its restrictions on the right to freedom of expression were justified for the protection of public health, morals, and the rights of children and the family.[237] Each of these purported justifications fails the strict tests under international law.

Public Health

Restrictions on expression which are based on public health grounds “must be specifically aimed at preventing disease or injury or providing care for the sick or injured.”[238] They should be evidence-based, and hypothetical general benefits should be outweighed by the concrete rights of individuals who are adversely affected by the restrictions.[239]

The European Court of Human Rights has dismissed Russia’s claim that its “gay propaganda” laws were justified on the grounds of protection of health:

As regards the alleged health risks, the Government have not demonstrated that applicants’ messages advocated reckless behaviour or any other unhealthy personal choices. In any event, the Court considers it improbable that a restriction on potential freedom of expression concerning LGBT issues would be conducive to a reduction of health risks.

The Court emphasized:

Quite the contrary, disseminating knowledge on sex and gender identity issues and raising awareness of any associated risks and of methods of protecting oneself against those risks, presented objectively and scientifically, would be an indispensable part of a disease-prevention campaign and of a general public-health policy.[240]

 

Morals

As the Human Rights Committee has stated, “limitations . . . for the purpose of protecting morals must be based on principles not deriving exclusively from a single tradition.”[241] The European Court of Human Rights has accepted that public morals can justify some restrictions on freedom of expression in relation to the depiction of explicit sexual images,[242] but not in cases that involve expression on LGBT issues generally.[243] Evaluating the “gay propaganda” laws in 2017, the European Court of Human Rights “reject[ed] the Government’s claim that regulating public debate on LGBT issues may be justified on the grounds of protection of morals.”[244]

Protection of Children and the Family

Protection of the rights of others is a permissible ground for limiting the right to freedom of expression,[245] and the Convention on the Rights of the Child specifically obligates states to ensure children “such care and protection as is necessary for [their] well-being”[246] and to “respect the responsibilities, rights, and duties of parents.”[247]

In this regard, the Committee on the Rights of the Child has called on states to “protect children from harmful information, especially pornographic materials and materials that portray or reinforce violence, discrimination and sexualized images of children,” taking care to emphasize that states should take these measures “while recognizing children's right to information and freedom of expression.”[248] As discussed more fully in the section on the right to health, below, the committee has regularly affirmed children’s right to receive and share information on sexual orientation and gender identity.[249]

The Venice Commission’s analysis of “gay propaganda” laws concluded that they cannot not be justified as necessary for the protection of children. The commission stated that “it cannot be deemed to be in the interest of minors that they be shielded from relevant and appropriate information on sexuality, including homosexuality.”[250] To the contrary, “international human rights practice supports the right to receive age appropriate information on sexuality, including homosexuality.”[251]

In a 2010 case, Alekseyev v. Russia, the European Court on Human Rights assessed whether a ban on pride marches and other public demonstrations by LGBT activists was justifiable on the basis that it protected children from harm, concluding, “There is no scientific evidence or sociological data at the Court’s disposal suggesting that the mere mention of homosexuality, or open public debate about sexual minorities’ social status, would adversely affect children . . . .”[252] Taking up this claimed basis again in its 2017 judgment on Russia’s “gay propaganda” laws, the court stated, “The position of the Government has not evolved since Alekseyev, and it remains unsubstantiated.”[253]

Addressing Russia’s contention that its “gay propaganda” laws are justifiable as a means of protecting the family, the European Court of Human Rights has observed:

It is incumbent on the State, in its choice of means designed to protect the family, to take into account developments in society and changes in the perception of social, civil-status and relational issues, including the fact that there is not just one way or one choice when it comes to leading one’s family or private life. . . . It may be added that—far from being opposed to family values—many persons belonging to sexual minorities manifest allegiance to the institutions of marriage, parenthood and adoption, as evidenced by the steady flow of applications to the Court from members of the LGBT community who wish to have access to them.[254]

The court concluded that Russia had “failed to demonstrate how freedom of expression on LGBT issues would devalue or otherwise adversely affect actual and existing ‘traditional families’ or would compromise their future.”[255]

Freedom of Association

Children as well as adults have the right to freedom of association with others,[256] a right that encompasses “the right to exercise choice in [children’s] friendships, as well as membership of social, cultural, sporting and other forms of organization.”[257]

As the Committee on the Rights of the Child has observed, “Association with peers is a major building block in adolescent development, the value of which should be recognized within the school and learning environment, recreational and cultural activities and opportunities for social, civic, religious and political engagement.”[258]

For LGBT youth in Russia and elsewhere, the opportunity to connect with other LGBT youth, LGBT organizations, and psychologists and other service providers gives them critical sources of support.[259] Access to the internet and to social media is in many countries, including Russia, an essential means of realizing their right to associate freely with peers.[260]

The right to freedom of association is subject to restriction on the same grounds as with freedom of expression—to respect the rights or reputation of others or for the protection of national security, public order, public health, or morals—and only when provided by law, necessary to achieve the permitted purpose, and proportionate to that objective.

As discussed in this report, the “gay propaganda” laws prevent LGBT organizations, psychologists, teachers, and others from providing children with age-appropriate, factual, and affirming information on LGBT issues. The laws have also disrupted LGBT children’s access to LGBT groups, impairing their ability to connect with other LGBT youth and take part in those organizations. These restrictions on LGBT children’s right to freedom of association cannot be justified as appropriate protections for public health, morals, or the rights of others.[261]

Protection from Violence

Children have the right to protection from violence and the right to security of person.[262]

The right of all children to protection from violence extends to all forms of physical and mental violence, including verbal abuse, harassment, and bullying.[263]

Children who are especially likely to face violence, including bullying, merit specific attention and protection from the state. As the Committee on the Rights of the Child has noted, “[g]roups of children which are likely to be exposed to violence include, but are not limited to, children . . . who are lesbian, gay, transgender or transsexual.”[264] The committee has repeatedly described bullying, harassment, and violence against LGBT youth as violations of children’s rights and has emphasized that “[a] school which allows bullying or other violent and exclusionary practices to occur is not one which meets the requirements of article 29(1),”[265] the provision of the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the aims of education.

The committee has identified steps that governments should take to protect children from bullying, harassment, and other forms of violence. These include challenging discriminatory attitudes that allow intolerance and violence to flourish, establishing reporting mechanisms, and providing guidance and training for teachers and administrators to know how to respond when they see or hear about incidents of violence.[266] When taking these steps, the committee has stressed that children themselves should be involved “in the development of prevention strategies in general and in school, in particular in the elimination and prevention of bullying, and other forms of violence in school.”[267]

In this regard, a crucial first step is to repeal the “gay propaganda” laws, which encourage and reinforce discriminatory attitudes[268] and “lead to the targeting and ongoing persecution of the country’s LGBTI community, including through abuse and violence, in particular against underage LGBTI rights activists.”[269]

Education

The right to education is recognized in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the European Social Charter, among other human rights treaties to which Russia is a party.[270] The Convention on the Rights of the Child specifies that education should be directed toward, among other objectives, “[t]he development of the child’s personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential,” as well as “[t]he development of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms,” and “[t]he preparation of the child for responsible life in a free society, in the spirit of understanding, peace, tolerance, equality of sexes, and friendship among all peoples, ethnic, national and religious groups and persons of indigenous origin.”[271]

The Committee on the Rights of the Child has stressed that for these aims of education to be realized, authorities should be aware of the school environment overall:

Efforts to promote the enjoyment of other rights must not be undermined, and should be reinforced, by the values imparted in the educational process. This includes not only the content of the curriculum but also the educational processes, the paedagogical methods and the environment within which education takes place.[272]

The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe has called on states to provide children with “objective information with respect to sexual orientation and gender identity, for instance in school curricula and educational materials,” along with “the necessary information, protection and support to enable them to live in accordance with their sexual orientation and gender identity.”[273]

The right to education includes the right to comprehensive sexual education.[274]  As the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education has explained: “The right to education includes the right to sexual education, which is both a human right in itself and an indispensable means of realizing other human rights, such as the right to health, the right to information and sexual and reproductive rights.”[275] A curriculum that ignores the needs of LGBT students “normalizes, stereotypes, and promotes images that are discriminatory because they are based on heteronormativity; by denying the existence of the lesbian, gay, transsexual, transgender and bisexual population, they expose these groups to risky and discriminatory practices.”[276]

LGBT students are denied the right to education when bullying, exclusion, and discriminatory policies prevent them from participating in the classroom or attending school. LGBT students’ right to education is also curtailed when teachers and curricula do not include information that is relevant to their development or are outwardly discriminatory toward LGBT people.

The right to education is a right of progressive realization, meaning that it can be implemented over time,[277] but states have immediate obligations to guarantee freedom from discrimination and to protect students from harassment, bullying, and violence.[278] In addition, as discussed more fully in the next section, access to comprehensive and inclusive health education, including on sexual and reproductive health, is an immediate state obligation.

To ensure that all students enjoy the right to an education, school authorities should ensure that schools are safe for all students. In addition, to make the right to education meaningful, schools should ensure that school curricula, interactions with school personnel, and school policies are non-discriminatory and provide information to LGBT youth on the same terms as their non-LGBT peers.[279]

Health

Children’s right to health[280] includes the right to health information. As the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has stated, the right to health extends “not only to timely and appropriate health care but also to the underlying determinants of health,” including “access to health-related education and information, including on sexual and reproductive health.”[281]

Whether in the dissemination of health information, the provision of health care, or other steps taken to ensure the right to health, states should take care to respect the principle of nondiscrimination. The Committee on the Rights of the Child has said that “[i]n order to fully realize the right to health for all children, States parties have an obligation to ensure that children’s health is not undermined as a result of discrimination, which is a significant factor contributing to vulnerability,” including discrimination on the basis of “sexual orientation, gender identity and health status.”[282]

The European Committee of Social Rights, the authority charged with interpreting the European Social Charter, has concluded that states’ positive obligation to realise the right to health “extends to ensuring that educational materials do not reinforce demeaning stereotypes and perpetuate forms of prejudice which contribute to the social exclusion, embedded discrimination and denial of human dignity often experienced by historically marginalised groups such as persons of non-heterosexual orientation.”[283]

The Committee on the Rights of the Child calls on states to “adopt comprehensive gender and sexuality-sensitive sexual and reproductive health policies for adolescents,”[284] taking “particular efforts . . . to overcome barriers of stigma and fear experienced by, for example . . . lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex adolescents.”[285] It also recommends that “[a]ge-appropriate, comprehensive and inclusive sexual and reproductive health education, based on scientific evidence and human rights standards and developed with adolescents, should be part of the mandatory school curriculum and reach out-of-school adolescents,” with “attention to . . . sexual diversity,” among other considerations.[286] Health information should include adequate information on the prevention of HIV/AIDS and of sexually transmitted infections.[287]

As with the right to education, the right to the highest attainable standard of health is a right of progressive realization, meaning that states may meet their obligation to fulfil the right over time depending on and in accordance with their resources, provided that they take “deliberate, concrete and targeted” steps toward the full realization of the right and “move as expeditiously and effectively as possible” to that end.[288] At the same time, states have a core obligation to ensure, at the very least, minimum essential levels of the right to health, including sexual and reproductive health. This core obligation includes the obligation to repeal laws—such as Russia’s “gay propaganda” laws—that “obstruct or undermine access by individuals or a particular group” to sexual and reproductive health information,[289] and to ensure that everybody has “access to comprehensive education and information on sexual and reproductive health that are non-discriminatory, non-biased, evidence-based, and that take into account the evolving capacities of children and adolescents.[290]

Responsibility to Support Parents

Parents and other caregivers have an important role in “providing security, emotional stability, encouragement and protection to children,” including throughout their adolescence.[291] Parents should fulfil this role by acting in their children’s best interest and respecting children’s evolving capacities.[292]

Russia has “a positive and active obligation to support and assist parents and other caregivers” as they carry out these responsibilities.[293] Among other things, the state should provide adequate information and support to parents to help them create “a relationship of trust and confidence in which issues regarding, for example, sexuality…can be openly discussed” and followed up by parents in ways “that respect the adolescent’s rights.”[294]

The Committee on the Rights of the Child cautions:

States should ensure that they do not, in the name of traditional values, tolerate or condone violence, reinforce unequal power relations within family settings and, therefore, deprive adolescents of the opportunity to exercise their basic rights.[295]

The committee also observes, “The obligation of parents and caregivers to provide appropriate guidance in accordance with the evolving capacities of adolescents should not interfere with adolescents’ right to freedom of expression.”[296]

In addition, as parents fulfil their responsibility to care for their children, they should do so in ways that reflect the right of children to preserve their identity, including characteristics such as their sexual orientation and gender identity.[297] The Committee on the Rights of the Child reminds states that children’s right to preserve their identity[298] includes the right to “respect for their physical and psychological integrity, gender identity and emerging autonomy.”[299]

To support parents, the committee recommends: “States should adopt evidence-based interventions to support good parenting, including parenting skills education, support groups and family counselling, in particular for families experiencing children’s health and other social challenges.”[300]

 

Acknowledgments

Michael Garcia Bochenek, senior children’s rights counsel, and Kyle Knight, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) rights researcher, were the primary researchers and authors of this report. Vladislav Lobanov, research assistant in the Europe and Central Asia division, conducted additional interviews and provided additional desk research. Tanya Cooper, researcher in the Europe and Central Asia division, conducted initial outreach, carried out some interviews, and provided strategic guidance for the research. Daniil Ukhorskiy, intern in the Children’s Rights Division, conducted background research to help frame the report. Yuri Frank worked with the team as a research assistant and interpreter. Zhenya Svetski, a Russian blogger, generously agreed to the use of his image on the cover of this report and on social media.

Tanya Lokshina, Europe and Central Asia associate director; Zama Neff, executive director of the Children’s Rights Division; Graeme Reid, director of the LGBT Rights Program; Aisling Reidy, senior legal advisor; and Joseph Saunders, deputy program director, edited the report. MJ Movahedi, coordinator in the LGBT Program, Fitzroy Hepkins, administrative manager, and José Martínez, senior coordinator, produced the report. 

Human Rights Watch is grateful to Deti-404, Resource LGBTIA Moscow, Russia LGBT Network, Human to Human St. Petersburg, Coming Out, and other nongovernmental organizations and individuals who generously assisted us in the course of this research.

Finally, we are particularly grateful to the students who were willing to share their experiences.

 

Glossary

Young people interviewed by Human Rights Watch for this report used a variety of terms to describe same-sex attraction and gender variance. Some of these terms are defined below.

Asexual

 

The sexual orientation of a person who experiences little or no sexual attraction to other people.

Biological sex

 

The biological classification of bodies as male or female based on such factors as external sex organs, internal sexual and reproductive organs, hormones, and chromosomes.

Bisexual

 

The sexual orientation of a person who is sexually and romantically attracted to both women and men.

Cisgender

 

The gender identity of people whose sex assigned at birth conforms to their identified or lived gender.

Closeted/Being in the Closet

 

A person who does not acknowledge their sexual orientation to others. People may be “fully” in the closet (not admitting their sexual orientation to anyone), fully out, or somewhere in between.

Gay

 

A synonym for homosexual in many parts of the world; in this report, used specifically to refer to the sexual orientation of a man whose primary sexual and romantic attraction is towards other men.

Gender

 

The social and cultural codes (as opposed to biological sex) used to distinguish between society’s conceptions of “femininity” and “masculinity.”

Gender-Based Violence

 

Violence directed against a person on the basis of gender or sex. Gender-based violence can include sexual violence, domestic violence, psychological abuse, sexual exploitation, sexual harassment, harmful traditional practices, and discriminatory practices based on gender. The term originally described violence against women but is now widely understood to include violence targeting women, transgender persons, and men because of how they experience and express their genders and sexualities.

Gender Expression

 

The external characteristics and behaviours that societies define as “feminine,” “androgynous,” or “masculine,” including such attributes as dress appearance, mannerisms, hair style, speech patterns, and social behaviour and interactions.

Gender Identity

 

A person’s internal, deeply felt sense of being female or male, both, or something other than female and male.

Gender Dysphoria (previously “Gender Identity Disordrer,” or GID)

 

The formal diagnosis that psychologists and physicians use to describe persons who experience significant discontent with their biological sex and/or the gender they were assigned at birth. The International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD-10 CM) and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) classify GID as a medical disorder. The 2013 version of the DSM-V replaced “Gender Identity Disorder” with “Gender Dysphoria” in an attempt to avoid the stigma associated with “disorder,” and changed the criteria for the diagnosis.

Gender Non-Conforming

 

Does not conform to stereotypical appearances, behaviours, or traits associated with sex assigned at birth.

Heterosexual

 

The sexual orientation of a person whose primary sexual and romantic attraction is toward people of the other sex.

Homophobia

 

Fear of, contempt of, or discrimination against homosexuals or homosexuality, usually based on negative stereotypes of homosexuality.

Homosexual

 

The sexual orientation of a person whose primary sexual and romantic attractions are toward people of the same sex.

Lesbian

 

The sexual orientation of a woman whose primary sexual and romantic attraction is toward other women.

LGBT

 

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender; an inclusive term for groups and identities sometimes also grouped as “sexual and gender minorities.”

Pansexual

 

The sexual orientation of a person whose sexual or romantic attraction is not restricted by sex assigned at birth, gender, or gender identity.

Queer

 

An inclusive umbrella term covering multiple identities, sometimes used interchangeably with “LGBTQ.” Also used to describe divergence from heterosexual and cisgender norms without specifying new identity categories.

Sexual and Gender Minorities

 

An inclusive term for people with non-conforming sexualities and gender identities, such as LGBT, men who have sex with men (who may not self-identify as LGBT) and women who have sex with women.

Sexual Orientation

 

The way in which a person’s sexual and romantic desires are directed. The term describes whether a person is attracted primarily to people of the same or other sex, or to both or others.

Transgender

 

The gender identity of people whose sex assigned at birth does not conform to their identified or lived gender. A transgender person usually adopts, or would prefer to adopt, a gender expression in consonance with their gender identity but may or may not desire to permanently alter their physical characteristics to conform to their gender identity.

Transgender Men

 

Persons designated female at birth but who identify and may present themselves as men. Transgender men are referred to with male pronouns.

Transgender Women

 

Persons designated male at birth but who identify and may present themselves as women. Transgender women are referred to with female pronouns.

Transphobia

 

Fear of, contempt of, or discrimination against transgender and transsexual persons, usually based on negative stereotypes of transgender identity.

 

 

[1] Letter from Elena Klimova to Svetlana Agapitova, Children’s Ombudsperson of St. Petersburg, April 19, 2016 (on file with Human Rights Watch)

[2] Ekaterina Vinokurova, “‘People Are Not Annoyed by Gays, But by Propaganda,’” [«Людей ведь раздражают не геи, а пропаганда»],Gazeta, June 10, 2013, https://www.gazeta.ru/politics/2013/06/10_a_5375845.shtml (accessed November 10, 2018).

[3] See Convention on the Rights of the Child, art. 1, November 20, 1989, 1577 U.N.T.S. 3 (entered into force September 2, 1990). The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) ratified the convention on August 16, 1990, and Russia remains a state party to the convention.

[4] See, for example, Human Rights Watch, “Just Let Us Be”: Discrimination Against LGBT Students in the Philippines (New York: Human Rights Watch, 2017), pp. i-ii; Human Rights Watch, “Like Walking Through a Hailstorm”: Discrimination Against LGBT Youth in US Schools (New York: Human Rights Watch, 2016), pp. i-ii; Human Rights Watch, Shut Out: Restrictions on Bathroom and Locker Room Access for Transgender Youth in US Schools (New York: Human Rights Watch, 2016), p. 18; Human Rights Watch, “The Nail That Sticks Out Gets Hammered Down”: LGBT Bullying and Exclusion in Japanese Schools (New York: Human Rights Watch, 2016), p. 25 n. 33.

[5] See Laura Engelstein, The Keys to Happiness: Sex and the Search for Modernity in Fin-de-Siècle Russia (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1992), pp. 58-59; Dan Healey, Homosexual Desire in Revolutionary Russia: The Regulation of Sexual and Gender Dissent (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2001), pp. 79-81; Dan Healey, Russian Homophobia from Stalin to Sochi (London: Bloomsbury, 2018), pp. xii-xiii.

[6] Healey, Homosexual Desire in Revolutionary Russia, pp. 80-81.

[7] Healey, Russian Homophobia from Stalin to Sochi, p. 158-175; Igor Kon, “Soviet Homophobia,” Gay.ru, 1998, http://www.gay.ru/english/history/kon/soviet.htm (accessed August 21, 2018).

[8] Healey, Homosexual Desire in Revolutionary Russia, p. 69; “History,” informational brochure, Side by Side LGBT Film Festival, 2013, p.3.

[9] World Health Organization, “The ICD-10 Classification of Mental and Behavioural Disorders,” http://www.who.int/classifications/icd/en/bluebook.pdf?ua=1 (accessed August 22, 2018).

[10] In 2012 Federal Law No. 14-FZ amended article 134 of the Criminal Code, setting out penalties for having sexual relations with children under 16 years of age and providing that the penalties for same-sex relations with a child under 16 are more severe than for heterosexual, underage sex. See Federal Law of February 29, 2012, No. 14-FZ “On Amendments to the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation and Certain Legislative Acts of the Russian Federation with a View to Strengthening Liability for Crimes of a Sexual Nature Committed Against Minors” [Федеральный закон от 29 февраля 2012 г. N 14-ФЗ "О внесении изменений в Уголовный кодекс Российской Федерации и отдельные законодательные акты Российской Федерации в целях усиления ответственности за преступления сексуального характера, совершенные в отношении несовершеннолетних"], Rossiiskaia Gazeta, March 2, 2012, art. 17, https://rg.ru/2012/03/02/neswovershennoletnye-dok.html (accessed April 30, 2018).

[11] According to the Levada Center, a Russian polling group, as of March 2015, 37 percent of Russians believe homosexuality is an illness in need of treatment and 35 percent believe consenting same-sex adults do not have the right to be in a relationship. Levada Center, “Homophobia,” June 10, 2015, http://www.levada.ru/en/2015/06/10/homophobia/ (accessed November 20, 2018). A 2017 Levada Center poll showed that 81 percent of respondents disapproved of same-sex relationships. Levada Center, “Taboo in the Field of Sex and Reproduction,” October 1, 2018, https://www.levada.ru/2018/01/11/17389/?fromtg=1 (accessed November 20, 2018).  A 2018 survey by a government-run polling agency found that 63 percent of respondents believe there is a subversive force working in Russia to destroy “Russian values” through the spreading of “gay propaganda.” Russian Public Opinion Research Center, “Conspiracy Theory Against Russia,” August 20, 2018, https://wciom.com/index.php?id=61&uid=1570 (accessed October 19, 2018).

[12] Federal Law of June 29, 2013, No. 135-FZ, “On Amendments to Article 5 of the Federal Law ‘On Protecting Children from Information Harmful to their Health and Development’” [Федеральный закон от 29 июня 2013 г. N 135-ФЗ г. Москва "О внесении изменений в статью 5 Федерального закона ‘О защите детей от информации, причиняющей вред их здоровью и развитию’ и отдельные законодательные акты Российской Федерации в целях защиты детей от информации, пропагандирующей отрицание традиционных семейных ценностей"], Rossiiskaia Gazeta, July 2, 2013, http://www.rg.ru/2013/06/30/deti-site-dok.html (accessed April 30, 2018).

[13] Human Rights Watch, “They Have Long Arms and They Can Find Me”: Anti-Gay Purge by Local Authorities in Russia’s Chechen Republic (New York: Human Rights Watch,2017), https://www.hrw.org/report/2017/05/26/they-have-long-arms-and-they-can-f...

[14] Tanya Lokshina (Human Rights Watch), “Don’t Tolerate the Intolerable from Chechnya’s Strongman Kadyrov,” Moscow Times, July 19, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/07/19/dont-tolerate-intolerable-chechnyas-....

[15] Graeme Reid (Human Rights Watch), “The Olympics Have Left Sochi, But Don’t Forget LGBT Russians,” Huffington Post, February 8, 2018, https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/02/08/olympics-have-left-sochi-dont-forget....

[16] “Moscalkova Promised to Send a Request to the Prosecutor General’s Office on the Persecution of Gays in Chechnya” [Mоскалькова пообещала направить запрос в Генпрокуратуру о преследовании геев в Чечне], Novaya Gazeta, April 6, 2017, https://www.novayagazeta.ru/news/2017/04/06/130527-moskalkova-poobeschala-napravit-zapros-v-genprokuraturu-o-presledovanii-geev-v-chechne (accessed August 22, 2018); “Moskalkova Transferred to the SK of Russia New Data on Gays in Chechnya” [Москалькова передала в СК России новые данные о геях в Чечне], Rosbalt, May 16, 2017, http://www.rosbalt.ru/russia/2017/05/16/1615502.html (accessed August 22, 2018).

[17] Kaitlin Martin, “No Justice for Chechnya’s Anti-Gay Purge Victims,” April 5, 2018, https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/04/05/no-justice-chechnyas-anti-gay-purge-victims.

[18] Hugh Williamson (Human Rights Watch), “Governments Pressure Russia to Act on Chechnya Abuses,” August 31, 2018, https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/08/31/governments-pressure-russia-act-chechnya-abuses. The 15 states invoked the OSCE’s “Vienna Mechanism,” which allows states to raise questions about the human rights situation in other participating states. An additional mechanism known as the “Moscow Mechanism” allows participating states to establish independent experts to help resolve specific situations. See OSCE, “Human Dimension Mechanisms,” n.d., https://www.osce.org/odihr/human-dimension-mechanisms (accessed September 4, 2018).

[19] OSCE, “OSCE’s Moscow Mechanism Invoked to Look into Alleged Human Rights Violations in Russian Federation’s Chechen Republic,” November 2, 2018, https://www.osce.org/odihr/401924 (accessed November 20, 2018).

[20] Federal Law of June 29, 2013, No. 135-FZ. In addition to the federal “gay propaganda” law, several regions, including Arkhangelsk, Ryazan, and St. Petersburg, have their own “gay propaganda” laws. See generally Expression Abridged: A Legal Analysis of Anti-LGBT Propaganda Laws (London: Thompson Reuters Foundation and IGLYO, 2018); Paul Johnson, “‘Homosexual Propaganda’ Law in the Russian Federation: Are They in Violation of the European Convention on Human Rights?” Russian Law Journal, vol. III (2015), pp. 38-45; Article 19, Traditional Values? Attempts to Censor Sexuality: Homosexual Propaganda Bans, Freedom of Expression and Equality (London: Article 19, 2013).

[21] The explanatory note of the federal “gay propaganda” law in its bill form referred explicitly to “the promotion of homosexuality . . . carried out via the media as well as via the active pursuit of public activities which try to portray homosexuality as normal behavior. This is particularly dangerous for children and young people who are not able to take a critical approach to this avalanche of information with which they are bombarded on a daily basis. In view of this, it is essential first and foremost to protect the younger generation from exposure to the promotion of homosexuality.” “Putin Signed a Law Banning Gay Propaganda to Children [Путин подписал закон о запрете гей-пропаганды среди детей],” RIA Novosti, June 30, 2013, http://ria.ru/politics/20130630/946660179.html (accessed October 19, 2018).

[22] Federal Law No. 135-FZ, article 3.2(b).

[23] Ibid. In November 2018, as this report was being finalized, one US dollar was equal to 67.87 rubles. US dollar equivalents are rounded to the nearest dollar for amounts between $10 and $100 and to the nearest five dollars for higher amounts.

[24] See Human Rights Watch, License to Harm: Violence and Harassment Against LGBT People and Activists in Russia (New York: Human Rights Watch, 2014), https://www.hrw.org/report/2014/12/15/license-harm/violence-and-harassme... Human Rights Watch, “Russia: Anti-LGBT Law a Tool for Discrimination,” June 29, 2014, https://www.hrw.org/news/2014/06/29/russia-anti-lgbt-law-tool-discrimination.

[25] Decision of September 23, 2014, of the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation, excerpted in Bayev v. Russia, App. No.67667/09 (Eur. Ct. H.R. June 20, 2017).

[26] Human Rights Watch, “Shocked by Russia’s Intolerance,” December 23, 2013, https://www.hrw.org/news/2013/12/23/dispatches-shocked-russias-intolerance.

[27] Sophie Jones, “How Social Conservatism Fueled Russia’s HIV Epidemic,” Politico, February 25, 2018, https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2018/02/25/russia-hiv-aids-epidemic-social-conservatism-orthodox-church-217011 (accessed October 19, 2018).

[28] Chris Beyrer, et. al., “The Expanding Epidemic of HIV-1 in the Russian Federation,” Plos, November 2017, https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1002462 (accessed October 19, 2018).

[29] Russia LGBT Network, “A Schoolchild Was Found Guilty of ‘Propaganda of Homosexuality Among Minors’ and Fined 50,000 Rubles,” August 8, 2018, https://lgbtnet.org/en/newseng/schoolchild-was-found-guilty-propaganda-homosexuality-among-minors-and-fined-50-000-rubles (accessed October 19, 2018).

[30] Daria Litvinova, “First Russian Minor Fined Under 'Gay Propaganda' Law Appeals,” Reuters, August 20, 2018, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-russia-lgbt-lawmaking/first-russian-minor-fined-under-gay-propaganda-law-appeals-idUSKCN1L51GD (accessed October 19, 2018).

[31] See Human Rights Watch, “Russian Youth Wins ‘Gay Propaganda’ Case,” October 31, 2018, https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/10/31/russian-youth-wins-gay-propaganda-case.

[32] Olga Korelina, “Police Seize ‘International Tolerance Day’ Drawings from Russian Grade School, After News Outlet Called Them ‘Gay Propaganda,’” Meduza, November 29, 2018, https://meduza.io/en/feature/2018/11/29/police-seize-international-tolerance-day-drawings-from-russian-grade-school-after-news-outlet-calls-them-gay-propaganda (accessed November 30, 2018).

[33] Human Rights Watch interview with Aleksey M., June 14, 2018.

[34] Human Rights Watch interview with Diana F., January 6, 2017.

[35] Human Rights Watch interview with Anton M., February 10, 2017.

[36] Human Rights Watch interview with Valentina D., February 12, 2017.

[37] Russian Public Opinion Research Center, “Conspiracy Theory Against Russia,” August 20, 2018, https://wciom.com/index.php?id=61&uid=1570 (accessed October 19, 2018).

[38] “Russian Orthodox Church Calls for a Referendum on the Issue of Punishment for Homosexual Relations” [РПЦ выступает за референдум в вопросе наказания за гомосексуализм], Izvestia, January 10, 2014, http://izvestia.ru/news/563711 (accessed September 15, 2014).

[39] Human Rights Watch interview with Denis P., February 1, 2017.

[40] Human Rights Watch interview with Georgy L., February 12, 2017.

[41] Human Rights Watch interview with Anton M., February 10, 2017.

[42] Human Rights Watch interview with Georgy L., February 12, 2017.

[43] Human Rights Watch interview with Alyona G., psychologist, March 28, 2018.

[44] Human Rights Watch interview with Alyona G., psychologist, March 28, 2018.

[45] Human Rights Watch interview with Veronika A., December 11, 2016.

[46] Human Rights Watch interview with Taras P., February 6, 2017.

[47] Human Rights Watch interview with Ekaterina T., December 23, 2016.

[48] Human Rights Watch interview with Lyuba M., psychologist, March 30, 2018.

[49] Human Rights Watch interview with Marina R., psychologist, March 28, 2018.

[50] Human Rights Watch interview with Lev M., December 10, 2016.

[51] Human Rights Watch interview with Vasily A., December 23, 2016.

[52] Human Rights Watch interview with Anna N., psychologist, October 12, 2016.

[53] Human Rights Watch interview with Timur L., psychologist, April 20, 2018.

[54] For example, Human Rights Watch interview with Diana F., January 6, 2017.

[55] Human Rights Watch interview with Alina P., December 25, 2016.

[56] Human Rights Watch interview with Tanya K., December 8, 2016.

[57] Human Rights Watch interview with Veronika A., December 11, 2016.

[58] Human Rights Watch interview with Natalya P., December 18, 2016.

[59] Human RIghts Watch interview with Arseny D., December 7, 2016.

[60] Human Rights Watch interview with Kirill G., February 17, 2017.

[61] Human Rights Watch interview with David O., June 7, 2018.

[62] Human Rights Watch interview with Nora T., February 2, 2017.

[63] Human Rights Watch interview with Irina L., January 30, 2017.    

[64] Human Rights Watch interview with Vera Y., December 21, 2016.

[65] Human Rights Watch interview with Vasily A., December 23, 2016.

[66] Human Rights Watch interview with Raisa N., December 8, 2016. See “Conchita,” n.d., http://conchitawurst.com/ (accessed October 19, 2018).

[67] Human Rights Watch interview with Yana T., December 20, 2016.

[68] Human Rights Watch interview with Vlad A.., December 21, 2016.

[69] Human Rights Watch interview with Irina R., December 17, 2016.

[70] Human Rights Watch interview with Natalya P., December 18, 2016.

[71] Human Rights Watch interview with Lev M., December 10, 2016.

[72] Human Rights Watch interview with Nikita R., August 17, 2017.

[73] Human Rights Watch interview with Pyotr E., December 22, 2016.

[74] Human Rights Watch interview with Pyotr E., December 22, 2016.

[75] Human Rights Watch interview with Antonina P., psychologist, November 16, 2017.

[76] Human Rights Watch interview with Veronika A., December 11, 2016.

[77] Human Rights Watch interview with Raisa N., December 8, 2016. The teacher’s response was a common aphorism in Russia which is drawn from the opening line of a poem by Fyodor Tyutchev: “Russia cannot be understood with the mind alone/No ordinary yardstick can span her greatness:/She stands alone, unique—/In Russia, one can only believe.” F.I. Tyuchev, “Russia cannot be understood with the mind alone,” in Poems [Стихотворения] (Moscow: Sovetskaya Rossiya, 1986).

[78] Human Rights Watch interview with Alina P., December 25, 2016.

[79] Human Rights Watch interview with Pyotr E., December 22, 2016.

[80] Human Rights Watch interview with Kirill G., February 17, 2017.

[81] Human Rights Watch interview with Zinaida M., January 6, 2017.

[82] Human Rights Watch interview with Yana T., December 20, 2016.

[83] Human Rights Watch interview with Pyotr E., December 22, 2016.

[84] Human Rights Watch interview with Aleksey M., June 14, 2018.

[85] Human Rights Watch interview with Vasily A., December 23, 2016.

[86] Human Rights Watch interview with Alexander N., June 7, 2018.

[87] For example, Human Rights Watch interview with Lubov K., May 30, 2018.; Human Rights Watch interview with Dmitry L., May 30, 2018.

[88] Human Rights Watch interview with Darya R., psychologist, December 8, 2017.

[89] Human Rights Watch interview with Mikhail S., December 17, 2016.

[90] Human Rights Watch interview with Veronika A., December 11, 2016.

[91] Human Rights Watch interview with Vera Y., December 21, 2016.

[92] Human Rights Watch interview with Aleksey M., June 14, 2018.

[93] Human Rights Watch interview with David O., June 7, 2018.

[94] Human Rights Watch interview with Darya R., psychologist, December 8, 2017.

[95] Human RIghts Watch interview with Arseny D., December 7, 2016.

[96] Human Rights Watch interview with Lev M., December 10, 2016.

[97] Human Rights Watch interview with Raisa N., December 8, 2016.

[98] Human Rights Watch interview with Tanya K., December 8, 2016.

[99] Human Rights Watch interview with Diana F., January 6, 2017.

[100] Human Rights Watch interview with Irina R., December 17, 2016.

[101] Human Rights Watch interview with Nora T, February 2, 2017.

[102] Human Rights Watch interview with Daniil K., January 5, 2017.

[103] Human Rights Watch interview with Kristina Z., January 31, 2017.

[104] Human Rights Watch interview with Lev M., December 10, 2016.

[105] Human Rights Watch interview with Georgy L., February 12, 2017.

[106] Human Rights Watch interview with Alina P., December 25, 2016.

[107] Human Rights Watch interview with Irina L., January 30, 2017.

[108] Human Rights Watch interview with Alyona G., psychologist, March 28, 2018.

[109] Human Rights Watch interview with Darya R., psychologist, December 8, 2017.

[110] Human Rights Watch interview with Anton M., February 10, 2017.

[111] Human Rights Watch interview with Georgy L., February 12, 2017.

[112] Human Rights Watch interview with Larisa V., February 8, 2017.

[113] Human Rights Watch interview with Pyotr E., December 22, 2016.

[114] Human Rights Watch interview with Nora T., February 2, 2017.

[115] Human Rights Watch interview with Veronika A., December 11, 2016.

[116] Human Rights Watch interview with Valentina D., February 12, 2017.

[117] Human Rights Watch interview with Nora T., February 2, 2017.

[118] Human Rights Watch interview with Irina R., December 17, 2016.

[119] Human Rights Watch interview with Nikita R., August 17, 2017.

[120] Human Rights Watch interview with Darya R., psychologist, December 8, 2017.

[121] Human Rights Watch interview with Valentina D., February 12, 2017.

[122] Human Rights Watch interview with Alexander N., June 7, 2018.

[123] Human Rights Watch interview with Aleksey M., June 14, 2018.

[124] Letter from Human Rights Watch to Olga Vasilyeva, Minister of Education and Science, October 12, 2018 (Appendix 1); Letter from Human Rights Watch to Veronica Svortsova, Minister of Health, October 12, 2018 (Appendix 2).

[125] Letter from Ministry of Education, Russian Federation, to Human Rights Watch, November 9, 2018 (Appendix 3).

[126] Ibid.

[127] Graeme Reid, “The Trouble with Tradition,” in Human Rights Watch World Report 2013 (New York: Human Rights Watch, 2013).

[128] United Nations Human Rights Council, “Promoting Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms Through a Better Understanding of Traditional Values of Humankind: Best Practices,” U.N. Doc. A/HRC/21/L.2 (September 21, 2012).

[129] Human Rights Watch, Online and on All Fronts: Russia’s Assault on Freedom of Expression (New York: Human Rights Watch, 2017).

[130] Human Rights Watch interview with Veronika A., December 11, 2016.

[131] Human Rights Watch interview with Taras P., February 6, 2017. Taras identifies as bigender, uses a boy’s name, and prefers female pronouns.

[132] Human Rights Watch interview with Nora T, February 2, 2017.

[133] Human Rights Watch interview with Kirill G., February 17, 2017.

[134] Human Rights Watch interview with Irina R., December 17, 2016.

[135] Human Rights Watch interview with Georgy L., February 12, 2017.

[136] Human Rights Watch interview with Vasily A., December 23, 2016.

[137] Human RIghts Watch interview with Arseny D., December 7, 2016.

[138] “Deti-404, LGBT Teenagers” [Дети-404. ЛГБТ-подростки], https://vk.com/deti404_c (accessed November 11, 2018). The slogan “Dumbledore’s Army is always on duty” [отряд Дамблдора всегда в строю] appears beneath the group’s name, in reference to the Harry Potter books’ gay headmaster and the rebel student group that rallied to his support. See J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (London: Bloomsbury, 2003), pp. 332, 347-48. Although Dumbledore is not explicitly described as gay in the Harry Potter books themselves, author J.K. Rowling has said the character is gay. Hannah Siegel, “Rowling Lets Dumbledore Out of the Closet,” ABC News, October 20, 2007, https://abcnews.go.com/Entertainment/story?id=3755544&page=1 (accessed November 10, 2018).

[139] Elena Klimova’s Facebook page entry is available at https://www.facebook.com/klimovalitred?fref=nf&pnref=story (accessed April 30, 2018).

[140] Deti-404’s VKontakte group is available at “Deti-404: LGBT Teenagers” [Дети-404. ЛГБТ-подростки],  https://vk.com/deti404 (accessed November 11, 2018), and “Deti-404, LGBT Teenagers” [Дети-404. ЛГБТ-подростки], https://vk.com/deti404_c (accessed November 11, 2018).

[141] The ruling, by a district court in Barnaul, was issued April 13, 2016. “Court in Barnaul Rules to Block Website of ‘Deti 404’ [Суд в Барнауле заблокировал сайт проекта “Дети 404],” Radio Free Europe Russia Service, April 13, 2016, http://www.svoboda.org/a/27672970.html (accessed April 24, 2018).

[142] Human Rights Watch interview with Daniil K., January 5, 2017.

[143] Human Rights Watch interview with Mikhail S., December 17, 2016.

[144] Human Rights Watch interview with Raisa N., December 8, 2016

[145] Human Rights Watch interview with Taras P., February 6, 2017.

[146] Human Rights Watch interview with Irina L., January 30, 2017.

[147] Human Rights Watch interview with Daniil K., January 5, 2017.

[148] Galina Artemenko, “Sexual Orientation in Russia After 18 Years” [Сексуальная ориентация по-русски после 18 лет], MR7, April 6, 2016, https://mr7.ru/articles/129692/ (accessed November 10, 2018).

[149] Ibid.

[150] Letter from Elena Klimova to Svetlana Agapitova, Children’s Ombudsperson of St. Petersburg, April 19, 2016 (on file with Human Rights Watch)

[151] Email from Elena Klimova to Human Rights Watch, November 29, 2018.

[152] See Bayev v. Russia, App. No. 67667/09 (Eur. Ct. H.R. June 20, 2017), http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/eng?i=001-174422 (accessed April 30, 2018).

[153] Declaration of Ilan H. Meyer, Ph.D. in the Cases of Bayev v. Russia (No. 67667/09), Kiselev v. Russia (No. 44092/12), and Alekseyev v. Russia (No. 56717/12), May 2014, https://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/research/international/meyer-declaration-bayev-v-russia-may-2014/ (accessed April 30, 2018).

[154] Human Rights Watch interview with Marina R., psychologist, March 28, 2018.

[155] Human Rights Watch interview with Antonina P., psychologist, November 16, 2017.

[156] Mark L. Hatzenbuehler, “The Social Environment and Suicide Attempts in Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Youth,” Pediatrics, vol. 127 (2011), pp. 896-903.

[157] Ilan H. Meyer, “Prejudice, Social Stress, and Mental Health in Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Populations: Conceptual Issues and Research Evidence,” Psychological Bulletin, vol. 129 (2003), pp. 674-97.

[158] See Kevin L. Nadal, That’s So Gay! Microaggressions and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Community (Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association, 2013).

[159] Ilan H. Meyer, “Resilience in the Study of Minority Stress and Health of Sexual and Gender Minorities,” Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity, vol. 2 (2015), p. 209.

[160] Human Rights Watch interview with Nikita R., August 17, 2017.

[161] Human Rights Watch interview with Maya N., December 18, 2016.

[162] Human Rights Watch interview with Taras P., February 6, 2017.

[163] Human Rights Watch interview with Kirill G., February 17, 2017.

[164] Human Rights Watch interview with Mikhail S., December 17, 2016.

[165] Human Rights Watch interview with Larisa V., February 8, 2017.

[166] Human Rights Watch interview with Lev M., December 10, 2016.

[167] Human Rights Watch interview with Georgy L., February 12, 2017.

[168] For example, Human Rights Watch interview with Anna N., psychologist, October 12, 2016.; Human Rights Watch interview with Antonina P., psychologist, November 16, 2017.

[169] For example, Human Rights Watch interview with David O., June 7, 2018.

[170] Human RIghts Watch interview with Arseny D., December 7, 2016.

[171] Human Rights Watch interview with Kristina Z., January 31, 2017.

[172] Human Rights Watch interview with Anna N., psychologist, October 12, 2016.

[173] Ibid.

[174] Ibid.

[175] Ibid. All children under 16 in Russia can be hospitalized by their parents without children’s consent, sexual orientation notwithstanding.

[176] Human Rights Watch interview with Darya R., psychologist, December 8, 2017.

[177] Human Rights Watch interview with Lyuba M., psychologist, March 30, 2018.

[178] Human Rights Watch interview with Anna N., psychologist, October 12, 2016.

[179] Human Rights Watch interview with Yulia Malygina, social pedagogue (social worker) and head of Resource LGBTKIA Moscow, Moscow, March 28, 2018.

[180] Human Rights Watch interview with Anton O., psychologist, November 2, 2017.

[181] Human Rights Watch interview with Anna N., psychologist, October 12, 2016.

[182] Human Rights Watch interview with Antonina P., psychologist, November 16, 2017.

[183] Ibid.

[184] Human Rights Watch interview with Natalya P., psychologist, February 1, 2018.

[185] Human Rights Watch interview with Darya R., psychologist, December 8, 2017.

[186] Human Rights Watch interview with Antonina P., psychologist, November 16, 2017.

[187] Ibid.

[188] Human Rights Watch interview with Marina R., psychologist, March 28, 2018.

[189] Human Rights Watch interview with Timur L., psychologist, April 20, 2018.

[190] Human Rights Watch interview with Marina R., psychologist, March 28, 2018.

[191] Human Rights Watch interview with Natalya P., psychologist, February 1, 2018.

[192] Human Rights Watch interview with Dmitry L., May 30, 2018.

[193] Human RIghts Watch interview with Arseny D., December 7, 2016.

[194] Human Rights Watch interview with Antonina P., psychologist, November 16, 2017.

[195] Human Rights Watch interview with Oksana M., psychologist, April 6, 2018.

[196] Human Rights Watch interview with Anton O., psychologist, November 2, 2017.

[197] Human Rights Watch interview with Alyona G., psychologist, March 28, 2018.

[198] Bayev v. Russia, App. No. 67667/09 (Eur. Ct. H.R. June 20, 2017), para. 83.

[199] International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), art. 19(2), December 19, 1966, 999 U.N.T.S. 171 (entered into force March 23, 1976, and ratified by the USSR October 16, 1973); Convention on the Rights of the Child, art. 13(1); Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms [European Convention on Human Rights], art. 10, November 4, 1950, 213 U.N.T.S. 221 (entered into force September 3, 1953, and ratified by the Russian Federation March 5, 1998). See also Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 20, paras. 34, 42.

[200] See Human Rights Committee, General Comment No. 34: Freedoms of Opinion and Expression, U.N. Doc. CCPR/C/GC/34 (September 12, 2011), para. 11.

[201] Ibid., para. 2.

[202] Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 2 on the Implementation of the Rights of the Child During Adolescence, U.N. Doc. CRC/C/GC/20 (December 6, 2016), para. 10.

[203] Human Rights Committee, General Comment No. 34, para. 12.

[204] Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 20, para. 42; Human Rights Committee, General Comment No. 34, para. 12.

[205] Human Rights Committee, General Comment No. 34, para. 12.

[206] Ibid., para. 11; Handyside v. United Kingdom, App. No. 5493/72 (Eur. Ct. H.R. December 7, 1976) Advocacy of national, racial, or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility, or violence is not protected under the right to freedom of expression. See ICCPR, art. 20(2).

[207] Steering Committee for Human Rights (CDDH), Explanatory Memorandum, Recommendation CM/Rec(201)5 of the Committee of Ministers to Member States on Measures to Combat Discrimination on Grounds of Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity, March 31, 2010, para. 15.

[208] ICCPR, art. 19(2); Convention on the Rights of the Child, art. 13(1); Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 20, para. 47. Accord European Convention on Human Rights, art. 10(1); Leander v. Sweden, App. No. 9248/81 (Eur. Ct. H.R. March 26, 1987), para. 74 (“the right to freedom to receive information basically prohibits a Government from restricting a person from receiving information that others wish or may be willing to impart to him”).

[209] Committee of Ministers, Recommendation CM/Rec(2010)5, March 31, 2010, para. 13.

[210] Convention on the Rights of the Child, art. 17.

[211] Ibid., art. 24(2)(e).

[212] Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 20, para. 47.

[213] ICCPR, art. 19; Convention on the Rights of the Child, art. 13(2); European Convention on Human Rights, art. 10(2).

[214] Human Rights Committee, General Comment No. 34, para. 22; Velichkin v. Belarus, Communication No. 1022/2001, U.N. Doc. CCPR/C/85/D/1022/2001 (Hum. Rts. Comm. May 9, 2001), para. 7.3.

[215] Bayev v. Russia, paras. 25, 45. See also Fedotova v. Russian Federation, Communication No. 1932/2010, U.N. Doc. CCPR/C/106/D/1932/2010 (Hum. Rts. Comm. November 30, 2012), para. 5.6 (summarizing the view of the Russian Constitutional Court that “the traditional understandings of family, motherhood and childhood are values that require special protection from the State”).

[216] See Bayev v. Russia, para. 45; Fedotova v. Russian Federation, paras. 8.1-8.4, 8.6-8.7.

[217] European Commission for Democracy through Law, Opinion 707/2012 on the Issue of the Prohibition of So-Called “Propaganda of Homosexuality” in the Light of Recent Legislation in Some Member States of the Council of Europe [Venice Commission, Opinion 707/2012], Doc. CDL-AD(2013)022 (June 18, 2013), para. 82.

[218] Council of Europe, Parliamentary Assembly, Resolution 1948 (2013): Tackling Discrimination on the Grounds of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, para. 5. The resolution went on to state: “The Assembly particularly deplores the unanimous approval by the Russian Duma of the bill on so-called propaganda for non-traditional sexual relationships among minors which, if approved also by the Council of the Federation, would be the first piece of legislation on the prohibition of homosexual propaganda to be introduced at national level in Europe.” Ibid., para. 7.

[219] Human Rights Committee, General Comment No. 34, para. 25. See also Siracusa Principles on the Limitation and Derogation Provisions in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, princ. 17 (“Legal rules limiting the exercise of human rights shall be clear and accessible to everyone.”), in UN Commission on Human Rights, U.N. Doc. E/CN.4/1985/4, annex (September 28, 1984).

[220] Sunday Times v. United Kingdom, App. No. 6538/74 (Eur. Ct. H.R. April 29, 1979), para. 49.

[221] Human Rights Committee, General Comment No. 34, para. 26. See also Siracusa Principles, princ. 13.

[222] Human Rights Committee, General Comment No. 34, para. 26; Siracusa Principles, princ. 9.

[223] See X v Colombia, Communication No. 1361/2005, U.N. Doc. CCPR/C/89/D/1361/2005, annex (Hum. Rts. Comm. May 14, 2007), para. 7.2 (noting that “the prohibition against discrimination under article 26 comprises also discrimination based on sexual orientation”).

[224] Siracusa Principles, princs. 7, 16. See also Human Rights Committee, General Comment No. 34, para. 25 (“A law may not confer unfettered discretion for the restriction of freedom of expression on those charged with its execution.”); Human Rights Committee, General Comment No. 27: Freedom of Movement, U.N. Doc. CCPR/C/21/Rev.1/Add.9 (November 1, 1999), para. 13

(the requirement that restrictions on liberty of movement be “provided by law” means that “laws authorizing the application of restrictions should use precise criteria and may not confer unfettered discretion on those charged with their execution”).

[225] See Decision of the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation No. 151-O-O of January 19, 2010.

[226] Venice Commission, Opinion 707/2012, para. 34. See also ibid., paras. 35, 37.

[227] Bayev v. Russia, para. 76. Similarly, the Committee on the Rights of the Child has expressed concerns at “the vague definitions of propaganda” used in the laws. Committee on the Rights of the Child, Concluding Observations: Russian Federation, U.N. Doc. CRC/C/RUS/CO/4-5 (February 25, 2014), para. 25.

[228] Venice Commission, Opinion 707/2012, para. 41.

[229] Fedotova v. Russian Federation, para. 10.6. Accord Venice Commission, Opinion 707/2012, para. 77 (“the prohibition of ‘propaganda of homosexuality’—as opposed to ‘propaganda of heterosexuality’ or sexuality generally—among minors, amounts to a discrimination, since the difference in treatment is based on the content of speech about sexual orientation and the authors of the provisions have not put forward any reasonable and objective criteria to justify the prohibition of ‘homosexual propaganda’ as opposed to ‘heterosexual propaganda.’”). See also Human Rights Committee, Concluding Observations: Russian Federation, U.N. Doc. CCPR/C/RUS/CO/7 (April 28, 2015), para. 10 (concluding that the federal and regional “gay propaganda” laws “represent a disproportionate restriction” of rights under the ICCPR, and calling for repeal of the laws).

[230] Bayev v. Russia, para. 69. See also ibid., para. 92 (finding that the “gay propaganda” laws violate the right to freedom from discrimination).

[231] Human Rights Committee, General Comment No. 34, para. 35.

[232] Fedotova v. Russian Federation, para. 10.6. See also Venice Commission, Opinion 707/2012, para. 77.

[233] Human Rights Committee, General Comment No. 34, para. 33.

[234] Siracusa Principles, princ. 11.

[235] Human Rights Committee, General Comment No. 34, para. 34.

[236] Venice Commission, Opinion 707/2012, para. 63.

[237] See Fedotova v. Russian Federation, paras. 8.1-8.7; Bayev v. Russia, paras. 45-48.

[238] Siracusa Principles, princ. 25.

[239] See Bayev v. Russia, para. 73.

[240] Ibid., para. 72. The court also rejected another proferred public health basis for the laws, the claim that it was necessary to address “the demographic situation,” observing, “Suppression of information about same-sex relationships is not a method by which a negative demographic trend may be reversed.” Ibid., para. 73.

[241] Human Rights Committee, General Comment No. 34, para. 32 (quoting Human Rights Committee, General Comment No. 22: Article 18, U.N. Doc. CCPR/C/Rev.1/Add.4 (September 27, 1993), para. 8).

[242] See Müller v. Switzerland, App. No. 10737/84 (Eur. Ct. H.R. May 24, 1988).

[243] See, for example, Alekseyev v. Russia, App. No. 4916/07 (Eur. Ct. H.R. October 21, 2010), para. 82.

[244] Bayev v. Russia, para. 71.

[245] ICCPR art. 19(3)(a); Convention on the Rights of the Child, art. 13(2)(a); European Convention on Human Rights, art. 10(2).

[246] Convention on the Rights of the Child, art. 3(2).

[247] Convention on the Rights of the Child, art. 5.

[248] Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 16 on State Obligations Regarding the Impact of the Business Sector on Human Rights, U.N. Doc. CRC/C/GC/16 (April 17, 2013), para. 58. As Ryan Thoreson has observed, “The Committee’s emphasis on discrimination, pornography, and violence reflects the concerns of Article 17(e)’s drafters, who sought to shield children from the promulgation of ‘apartheid, racist theories and ideologies and the like,’ and not to suppress age-appropriate information about sex education, discussions of pregnancy and HIV/AIDS, and LGBT advocacy.” Ryan Thoreson, “From Child Protection to Children’s Rights: Rethinking Homosexual Propaganda Bans in Human Rights Law,” Yale Law Journal, vol. 124 (2015), p. 1339.

[249] See, for example, Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 20, paras. 33, 59, 60; Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 4: Adolescent Health and Development, U.N. Doc. CRC/GC/2003/4 (July 1, 2003), para. 26; Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 3: HIV/AIDS and the Rights of the Child, U.N. Doc. CRC/GC/2003/3 (March 17, 2003), para. 16.

[250] Venice Commission, Opinion 707/2012, para. 65.

[251] Ibid., para. 66.

[252] Alekseyev v. Russia, para. 86. The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, which supervises implementation of the European Court of Human Rights’ judgments, has repeatedly expressed concern at Russia’s noncompliance with the judgment in this case. See, for example, Committee of Ministers, Alekseyev v. Russian Federation, Item H46-23, December 6-8, 2016, para. 4 (“the situation does not attest to any improvement”); Committee of Ministers, Alekseyev v. Russian Federation, Item H46-19, March 8-10, 2016, para. 1 (expressing “serious concern” at continued noncompliance with the European court’s judgment).

[253] Bayev v. Russia, para. 78. Accord Alekseyev and Others v. Russia, App. No. 14988/09 (Eur. Ct. H.R. November 27, 2018), paras. 17-18, 21.

[254] Bayev v. Russia, para. 67.

[255] Ibid.

[256] ICCPR, art. 22(1); Convention on the Rights of the Child, art. 15(1); European Convention on Human Rights, art. 11(1).

[257] Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 17 on the Right of the Child to Rest, Leisure, Play, Recreational Activities, Cultural Life and the Arts, U.N. Doc. CRC/C/GC/17 (April 17, 2013), para. 21.

[258] Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 20, para. 44.

[259] See, for example, GLSEN, Center for Innovative Public Health Research, and Crimes Against Children Research Center, Out Online: The Experiences of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Youth on the Internet (New York: GLSEN, 2013), pp. 12-15.

[260] See Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 17, para. 45.

[261] See Alekseyev v. Russia (2010), para. 86. See also Alekseyev and Others v. Russia (2018), para. 21.

[262] Convention on the Rights of the Child, art. 19; ICCPR, art. 9(1); European Convention on Human Rights, art. 5(1). See also ICCPR, art. 24(1) (right of children to “such measures of protection as are required by [their] status” as children).

[263] Convention on the Rights of the Child, art. 19(1); Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 13: The Right of the Child to Freedom from All Forms of Violence, U.N. Doc. CRC/C/GC/13 (April 18, 2011), paras. 4, 21, 27.

[264] Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 13, para. 72(g). See also Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, World Report on Violence Against Children (Geneva: United Nations Secretary-General’s Study on Violence Against Children, 2006), p. 121 (“Teachers and other children commonly put pressure on children to make them conform to cultural values and social attitudes that define what it means to be ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine.’”); Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 20, para. 34 (calling on states to “take effective action to protect all lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex adolescents from all forms of violence, discrimination or bullying.”). The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has expressly called on Russia to address harassment in schools against LGBT children and the children of LGBT families. Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Concluding Observations: Russian Federation, U.N. Doc. E/C.12/RUS/CO/6 (October 16, 2017), paras. 56(c), 57(b).

[265] Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 1: The Aims of Education, U.N. Doc. CRC/GC/2001/1 (April 17, 2001), para. 19.

[266] Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 13, paras. 47(a)(i), 49, 50-51.

[267] Ibid., para. 63.

[268] See Bayev v. Russia, para. 83 (finding that the “gay propaganda” laws “reinforce stigma and prejudice and encourage homophobia”); Human Rights Committee, Concluding Observations: Russian Federation, U.N. Doc. CCPR/C/RUS/CO/7 (April 28, 2015), para. 10(d) (finding that the “gay propaganda” laws “exacerbate the negative stereotypes against LGBT individuals”); Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, Concluding Observations: Russian Federation, U.N. Doc. CEDAW/C/RUS/CO/8 (November 20, 2015), para. 41 (concluding that the “gay propaganda” laws “may reinforce homophobia”).

[269] Committee on the Rights of the Child, Concluding Observations: Russian Federation, para. 24.

[270] International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, art. 13, December 19, 1966, 993 U.N.T.S. 3 (entered into force January 3, 1976, and ratified by the USSR October 16, 1973); Convention on the Rights of the Child, art. 28; European Social Charter (revised), art. 17(2), May 3, 1996, E.T.S. 163 (entered into force July 1, 1999, and ratified by the Russian Federation October 16, 2009).

[271] Convention on the Rights of the Child, art. 29(1).

[272] Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 1, para. 8.

[273] Committee of Ministers, Recommendation CM/Rec(2010)5, para. 32.

[274] Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, General Comment No. 22 on the Right to Sexual and Reprodutive Health, U.N. Doc. E/C.12/GC/22 (May 2, 2016), para. 9; Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 15 on the Right of the Child to the Enjoyment of the Highest Attainable Standard of Health, U.N. Doc. CRC/C/GC/15 (April 17, 2013), para. 59; Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 20, paras. 59-61; Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 4, para. 17.

[275] UN General Assembly, Report of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education, U.N. Doc. A/65/162 (July 23, 2010), para. 19.

[276] Ibid., para. 69.

[277] See Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, General Comment No. 13: The Right to Education, U.N. Doc. E/C.12/1999/10 (December 8, 1999), para. 43.

[278] See Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, General Comment No. 20: Non-Discrimination in Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, U.N. Doc. E/C.12/GC/20 (July 2, 2009), para. 7; Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, General Comment No. 13, paras. 31, 57.

[279] The Committee on the Rights of the Child has stated, “The effective promotion of article 29 (1) requires the fundamental reworking of curricula to include the various aims of education and the systematic revision of textbooks and other teaching materials and technologies, as well as school policies.” Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 1, para. 18.

[280] International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, art. 12; Convention on the Rights of the Child, art. 24; European Social Charter (revised), art. 11.

[281] Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, General Comment No. 14: The Right to the Highest Attainable Standard of Health, U.N. Doc. E/C.12/2000/4 (August 11, 2000), para. 11. See also Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, General Comment No. 22, para. 7 (right to sexual and reproductive health includes access to health-related education and information); Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 15, para. 58 (state obligation to provide “health-related information and support in the use of this information”); Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 4, para. 10 (right of adolescents to access appropriate information); Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 3, para. 16 (right of children “to access adequate information related to HIV/AIDS prevention and care”). In its most recent review of Russia’s compliance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Committee on the Rights of the Child expressed concern about “the lack of sexual health information for LGBTI children” and called on Russia to “the lack of sexual health information for LGBTI children.” Committee on the Rights of the Child, Concluding Observations: Russian Federation, paras. 55, 56(c).

[282] Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 15, para. 8.

[283] Interights v. Croatia, Complaint No. 45/2007 (Eur. Comm. Soc. Rts. March 30, 2009), para. 61.

[284] Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 20, para. 59. Similarly, the UN special rapporteur on the right to health has concluded, “All adolescents must be guaranteed access to confidential, adolescent-responsive and non-discriminatory sexual and reproductive health information . . . .” UN Human Rights Council, Report of the Special Rapporteur on the Right of Everyone to the Enjoyment of the Highest Attainable Standard of Physical and Mental Health, U.N. Doc. A/HRC/32/32 (April 4, 2016), para. 90.

[285] Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 20, para. 60.

[286] Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 20, para. 61. See also Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 15, para. 59. The UN special rapporteur on the right to health has made a similar call and noted that sexuality education should give specific attention to “relationships, sexuality, gender equality and identity and sex characteristics, including non-conforming gender identities,” among other topics. Report of the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health, U.N. Doc. A/HRC/32/32, para. 91. And the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has stated that education on sexuality and reproduction should be “comprehensive, non-discriminatory, evidence-based, scientifically accurate and age appropriate,” and has explicitly called on Russia to incorporate into its school curricula sexual and reproductive health information meeting these parameters. Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, General Comment No. 22, para. 9; Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Concluding Observations: Russian Federation, para. 55.

[287] See Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 20, paras. 62-63; Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 14 on the Right of the Child to Have His or Her Best Interest Taken as a Primary Consideration, U.N. Doc. CRC/C/GC/14 (May 29, 2013), para. 78.

[288] Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, General Comment No. 14, paras. 30-31.

[289] Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, General Comment No. 22, para. 49(a).

[290] Ibid., para. 49(f).

[291] Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 20, para. 50. See also Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 14, para 67.

[292] Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 14, para. 78.

[293] Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 13, para. 5; Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 20, para. 50. See also Convention on the Rights of the Child, art. 18(2) (“States Parties shall render appropriate assistance to parents and legal guardians in the performance of their child-rearing responsibilities . . . .”); Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 15, paras. 76, 78.

[294] Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 4, para. 16.

[295] Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 20, para. 50.

[296] Ibid., para. 42. Similarly, parents should “take into account adolescents’ views, in accordance with their age and maturity . . . .” Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 4, para. 7.

[297] See, for example, Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 14, para. 55.

[298] Convention on the Rights of the Child, art. 8(1).

[299] Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 20, para. 34.

[300] Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 14, para. 67.

Author: Human Rights Watch, Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

The United Nations’ Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in session during South Africa’s first review. (C) 2018 Elin Martínez/Human Rights Watch

(Johannesburg) - South Africa’s Constitution contains a wide range of socio-economic rights. In 2015, expanding and deepening South Africa’s commitment to the realization of socio-economic rights, the South African Government ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). On international human rights day today we draw attention to recent commitments made by the South African Government, which, if kept, will contribute significantly to the eradication of inequality and elimination of poverty in South Africa. We call on the South African government to keep these commitments.

On 2-3 October 2018, in compliance with its legally binding obligations in terms of ICESCR, a high level government delegation led by Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development John Jeffery engaged in deliberations with the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (UN Committee) in Geneva, Switzerland. The UN Committee is comprised of international experts in the field of socio-economic rights. Its interpretations of ICESCR help determine South Africa’s legally binding obligations in terms of international human rights law. The Constitution requires South Africa to comply with these obligations.

After constructive engagements with a wide range of civil society organisations, the South African Human Rights Commission and the South African Government, the UN Committee issued its “Concluding Observations” to the South African Government on 12 October 2018.  The South African Government is required in terms of its ICESCR obligations to report back on its progress on the implementation specified recommendations in these Concluding Observations by October 2020 and provide another full report to CESCR in October 2023.

CESCR’s Concluding Observations span the full range of socio-economic rights in the South African Constitution and ICESCR including equal access to land without discrimination, the right to work, an adequate standard of living, education, health, housing and social security. The Concluding Observations also make broad recommendations on South Africa’s budget process and fiscal framework, tax regime and approach to economic development. In many instances, the UN Committee indicates that the Government is falling short of its obligations to realise socio-economic rights. Many of the Committee’s recommendations may therefore require that action is taken by executive, legislative, judicial and administrative agencies throughout Government.

The UN Committee’s guidance is critical particularly in the context of high and increasing unemployment, rampant poverty and extreme inequality in South Africa. Its recommendations have a direct impact on issues at the centre of public debates about the need to accelerate “economic transformation”, expedite wealth redistribution and eliminate inequality in South Africa. They provide an opportunity for the Government to reevaluate its progress in fulfilling the constitutional promise of socio-economic rights.

As civil society organisations we commend the South African Government for its open engagement with CESCR in compliance with its international human rights law obligations. We note that in its deliberations with the UN Committee, the Government recommitted itself to “meet with civil society representatives after receipt of the Concluding Observations so as to ensure that we further strengthen our commitment to the Covenant”. We welcome this commitment from the South African Government. Today we have written to members of the high level delegation and the South African Human Rights Commission to inquire about the process that will be followed to ensure that the Government’s response to the Concluding Observations is inclusive, participatory, expeditious and effective.

We call on the Government to ensure that discussion and debate about the way forward to ensure compliance with South Africa’s international obligations is as inclusive as possible.  We also call on the government to ensure that this commitment is extended thorough meaningful public consultations involving all public policies and laws in South Africa affecting the realization of socio-economic rights.

We call on the South African Human Rights Commission to play a significant role in this process given its mandate to “promote respect for human rights and a culture of human rights”.

We call on members of the public, civil society organisations, trade unions, political parties, businesses and the Government to study CESCR’s Concluding Observations closely and participate in lively discussion and debate to ensure their implementation.

Media requests for comment/interview should be directed through:

Zukiswa Pikoli | mailto:pikoli@section27.org.za |+27 (0)11 356 4100 Gladys Mirugi-Mukundi | mailto:gmirugi-mukundi@uwc.ac.za | +27(0)62 071 4812 Tim Fish Hodgson | mailto:timothy.hodgson@icj.org | +27(0)82 871 9905

This statement is issued on behalf of the following organisations:

Amnesty International

Association for Progressive Communications Black Sash Children’s Institute, University of Cape Town Dullah Omar Institute

Equal Education         

Equal Education Law Centre

Human Rights Watch

Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies Institute for Economic Justice International Commission of Jurists Legal Resources Centre Media Monitoring Africa People’s Health Movement South Africa Right to Know Campaign

SECTION27

Studies in Poverty and Inequality Institute

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am
Video

Video: Senegalese activists campaign against sexual abuse in schools

Abusive teachers and other staff sexually exploit, harass, and abuse adolescent girls in Senegal’s secondary schools. While Senegal has taken important steps to expand girls’ access to quality education, it needs to step up efforts to protect girls from these abuses and hold teachers who violate professional norms or Senegalese law, responsible. #ItsNotOK

“I just saw your post on sexual harassment. Please send me your number – I’m going to explain to you what happened to me when I was a teenager.”

That message – sent by a young woman to a Senegalese child rights activist – represents a small, but significant step forward in ending the silence around abuses against students in Senegal’s schools.

Since the launch of our report on sexual exploitation, harassment and, abuse in schools in Senegal, activists have noticed that just opening conversations about these topics means some girls feel they can come forward to speak about what happened to them in school. One youth leader told me her youngest sister found the courage to tell her she was being harassed at school.

The opening up of the conversation is significant. As we found in our report, many girls feel they cannot talk to their parents about what’s happening to them in schools. Girls we spoke to said they would never consider telling parents or officially denouncing a perpetrator at school or the community out of fear of being blamed for inviting the exploitation and abuse.

Stigma and taboos act as a powerful muzzle keeping girls and women from reporting sexual exploitation, harassment, or abuse. Because of this, perpetrators carry on, knowing that they won’t be stopped. Opening up the discussion and tackling the taboos is a fundamental part of ending sexual exploitation.

In an effort to ensure our findings reach young people and parents, we have published a short, easy-to-read version of our report so that more people know what sexual exploitation and harassment are, how they happen in schools, and what measures teachers and the government should take to stop it.

Young Senegalese should feel they can have more open conversations with their parents, teachers, and other adults who are there to guide them. Some dedicated and professional teachers I met through my research have done just that in their schools, making students feel comfortable to come forward and report any abuses or concerns. But these efforts should be replicated in more schools, and in many more communities.

It's time to end the culture of silence around school-related sexual exploitation, harassment, and abuse.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

This submission focuses on the situation of asylum seekers and refugee children transferred to Nauru by Australia—many of whom have recently been sent back to Australia for medical treatment; the detention of children; the rights of intersex children; and the protection of education during armed conflict. It relates to articles 9, 13, 19, 24, 25, 28, 34, 37, 38, and 39 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. It proposes issues and questions that Committee members may wish to raise with the government. 

Australia’s Responsibilities for Rights Violations in Offshore Processing on Nauru

Human Rights Watch gathered information about Australia’s offshore processing during a visit to Nauru in July 2016 and through additional interviews with refugees and asylum seekers between August 2016 and November 2018, by telephone with refugees and asylum seekers on Nauru, and in person with those transferred from Nauru to Australia on medical grounds.[1]

From July 2013, asylum seekers who arrive in Australian waters by boat (including unaccompanied children and families) were transferred to Nauru, in the case of families with children, or to Manus Island, Papua New Guinea, in the case of single men (and some unaccompanied boys incorrectly identified as adults).  

Australia signed memorandums of understanding (MOUs) with Nauru in 2012 and 2013. Under these MOUs, Nauru agreed to host asylum seekers transferred by Australia in detention facilities known as “Regional Processing Centres” (RPCs).[2]

Australia has consistently disavowed responsibility for human rights violations associated with its offshore processing of refugees and asylum seekers even though Australia has exercised effective control over all aspects of the holding and processing of refugees and asylum seekers on Nauru. As a result, the Human Rights Committee and other international bodies have repeatedly concluded that Australia is jointly responsible under international law for safeguarding the human rights of the refugees and asylum seekers it has transferred to Nauru.[3] In addition, Nauru is responsible on a joint basis with Australia for human rights violations that take place on its territory.[4]

In recent months, following growing pressure from hundreds of charities, human rights groups, medical and legal organizations, and doctors,[5] the Australian government has begun to transfer people away from Nauru. Between August and November 2018, the number of child refugees on Nauru reduced from 119 to 12, and most of the children were accompanied by their families.[6] George Brandis, the former attorney general, now the high commissioner to the UK, has confirmed that all children on Nauru will be transferred to Australia by the end of the year.[7]

Transfer from Nauru doesn't mean the children and their families are allowed to move about freely. According to those providing assistance to new arrivals from Nauru, some are being kept under guard in hospitals and motels, separated from family members who may be held in detention or in different states. All families transferred from Nauru remain in legal limbo, and face the prospect of being removed from Australia at some future date. For example, Peter Dutton, the home affairs minister, has stated, “We’ve been very clear that when they receive medical assistance, then the expectation is that they will return to their country of origin.”[8] Human Rights Watch interviews with refugees and service providers in Australia indicate that continued separation of family members and, in some cases, detention and other restrictions—together with anxiety about the threat of being returned to Nauru—have, in fact, exacerbated mental health problems since their transfer on medical grounds to Australia.  

Offshore Operations on Nauru

For months and in some cases years after their arrival in Nauru, children and their families were held in detention centers, surrounded by fences and guarded by security services. They lived in crowded tents where the heat was unbearable, with temperatures indoors regularly reaching 45 to 50 degrees Celsius (113 to 122 degrees Fahrenheit).

Since October 2015, Nauru has allowed asylum seekers greater freedom of movement around the island, a step widely interpreted as a response to litigation in Australia challenging the lawfulness of asylum seekers’ detention.

Those the Australian and Nauru governments recognize as refugees are generally provided accommodation in open camps or other housing throughout the island. Families are generally assigned prefabricated units or converted containers, and single men are placed in rooms with space only for a bed and a small shelf.

Harassment and violence, including sexual assault (articles 19, 34, and 39)

Refugees and asylum seekers told Human Rights Watch that they suffer regular violent physical attacks from local Nauruans that with rare exception go unpunished by local authorities. Children as well as adults reported acts of intimidation, harassment, or violence directed at them or family members by Nauruans acting alone or in groups.  Types of physical abuse include spitting, throwing bottles and stones, swerving vehicles in the path of refugees and asylum seekers as they walk or ride on motorbikes, breaking accommodation windows, and destroying other property.

Several of those interviewed by Human Rights Watch described acts of violence committed by guards and service providers against children. Similar accounts appear among the 66 reports of assault on children among the Nauru Files, a cache of 2,000 leaked reports that revealed the scale of abuse of children in Australian offshore detention released by the Guardian.[9]

Children and adults told Human Rights Watch that to avoid persistent harassment and violence, they frequently avoid leaving their accommodations, particularly at night.  Women and girls rarely leave the camps and then only in groups or with male companions.[10]

Sexual assault of refugees and asylum seekers on Nauru—by security guards as well as by other refugees or asylum seekers—has also been reported since 2013.[11] In at least two cases involving the rape of women refugees while they were on Nauru, Australian courts have required immigration authorities to procure safe and lawful abortions for the women.[12] The Moss Review, an independent inquiry led by former integrity commissioner Philip Moss, described six reports of sexual assault of children, allegedly by contract service providers in some cases and by adult detainees in other cases.[13] In addition, the Moss Review identified five reports of alleged sexual harassment of children by contract service providers.[14]

The Nauru Files contain at least one report of sexual assault of a child by a guard. In that case, a woman reported that “their son [name redacted] had said . . . that one Nauruan officer had put his hand up [their son’s] shorts and was playing with his bottom.”[15] At least 10 other reports in the Nauru Files described acts of sexual assault against children, although it is not always clear from the redacted reports whether the alleged perpetrator was a guard or other staff member, a refugee or asylum seeker, or a member of the local community.[16]

Attempted Suicide, Other Acts of Self-Harm, and Mental Well-Being (articles 19, 24, and 25)

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) found in 2016 that 80 percent of the surveyed population on both islands suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety.[17] Nearly every asylum seeker and refugee on Nauru interviewed by Human Rights Watch expressed concern about their mental well-being, describing high levels of anxiety, trouble sleeping, mood swings, and feelings of listlessness and despondency that began when they were forcibly transferred to Nauru. Children had begun to wet their beds, suffer nightmares, act out, and in some instances had stopped interacting with or even speaking to people outside of their immediate families.

Human Rights Watch spoke with children and with parents of children who had considered or attempted suicide or had engaged in other acts of self-harm, such as cutting their arms.[18] In an indication of the prevalence of these serious concerns, the Nauru Files contain 30 reports of self-harm by children and 159 reports of attempted self-harm by children.[19]

The humanitarian medical organization Médecins sans Frontières (MSF), which the Nauruan government barred in October from working on the island, had been treating at least 78 refugee and asylum-seeking patients who had considered or attempted suicide or self-harm. The most common mental health conditions MSF found among refugees and asylum seekers on Nauru were depression, anxiety, and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), with significant levels of self harm, suicidal ideation, and suicide attempts, including children as young as 9-years-old.[20] MSF’s Australia director, Paul McPhun, described the consequences of Australia’s offshore processing for refugee and asylum seekers’ mental health in these terms:

While many asylum seekers and refugees on Nauru experienced trauma in their countries of origin or during their journey, it is the Australian government’s policy of indefinite offshore detention that has destroyed their resilience, shattered all hope, and ultimately impacted their mental health.[21]

Similar accounts have emerged in litigation in which children held on Nauru have sought medical transfers to Australia because of their deteriorating mental health. For example:

  • In a 2018 case, the Federal Court of Australia found that “a young girl, not yet a teenager” had attempted suicide and has continued to express the desire to kill herself “because she is stuck in Nauru.” The girl told a psychologist that she “blames the Australian government for her state of mind.”[22]
  • In a second case in 2018, a mother of a 10-year-old boy applied for their immediate transfer to Australia. The boy was at serious risk of self-harm and suicide and needed specialist psychiatric care that was unavailable on Nauru. He had suffered from night terrors since December 2013 and began to have episodes of suicide ideation and threaten other self-harm in October 2014. He attempted suicide three times in January 2018 and was diagnosed that month with a chronic, major depressive disorder.[23]
  • In a third 2018 case, a 17-year-old boy and his mother requested immediate transfer from Nauru to Australia in order for him to receive appropriate mental health treatment. The boy’s mental health symptoms between August 2013 to March 2018 included “nightmares, sleep disturbance, panic attacks, significant weight loss, stress, social withdrawal, hopelessness, withdrawal from school two years ago, impulsivity, head-banging, increased anxiety and protectiveness towards his mother, anger, numerous threats of self-harm by scratching face, significant suicidal preoccupation and at least one thwarted suicide attempt (about 18 months ago when the applicant tried to cut his wrists with a knife which his mother prevented).”[24] The court found that the boy’s “continued residence on Nauru is a causative and contributing factor in his mental illness and substantial risk of self-harm.”[25]
  • A fourth 2018 case involved an adolescent girl who had cut herself repeatedly and had stopped eating or drinking. A medical professional who reviewed the girl’s file observed, “A child in this condition if not treated will develop severe dehydration, renal failure and malnutrition. Other complications include pneumonia, other infections, pressure sores and contractures. . . . RON [Republic of Nauru] hospital has been documented as failing to provide adequate supportive treatment and rehydration for this child thus increasing the risk of severe complications.”[26]

The Australian Human Rights Commission, UNHCR, and other independent agencies have observed that prolonged detention in conditions that violate the prohibition on ill-treatment exacerbated the trauma many had suffered from persecution in their home countries and the abuses and other hazards they faced on their journeys to Australia.[27]

Two agencies, International Health and Medical Services (IHMS) and the Offshore Service for Survivors of Torture (OSSTT), provide mental health services for refugees and asylum seekers under contracts with the Australian government.[28] IHMS, the main health service provider for refugees and asylum seekers,[29] appears to rely largely on strong sedative and anti-psychotic medication—for children as well as adults—to address mental health issues. Refugees and asylum seekers told Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International that these medications have severe side effects but provide little relief. The OSSTT officially deals only with previous trauma.[30]

In the opinion of an IHMS doctor provided as testimony in one court case, “Nauru is ill equipped to handle complex mental health cases, particularly child mental health, and does not have the facilities to handle a complex child psychiatric case requiring inpatient treatment.”[31] In another case, the judge found, on the basis of expert opinion from several psychiatrists, that the services required to handle complex child and adolescent mental health cases “are not available or adequately available on Nauru.”[32] The judges in other cases reached the same conclusion.[33]

Right to Health (article 24)

More generally, the quality of medical care for refugees and asylum seekers on Nauru is poor. Medical equipment is rudimentary, and specialist medical attention is not regularly available. Dental services are largely limited to tooth extraction. Refugees and asylum seekers reported that the hospital lacks even basic supplies, such as bandages or sterile gloves.[34]

Specialized medical equipment and staff are not available on Nauru; Nauruans who require more than basic medical care are sent to Australia, Fiji, or Taiwan. Refugees and asylum seekers may be sent to Papua New Guinea and less frequently to Australia for care not available on Nauru. In several of the cases Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International reviewed, doctors made written requests in medical reports for overseas treatment for refugees and asylum seekers because the hospital lacked the necessary expertise or equipment. Those referred for overseas treatment may wait for weeks or even months before they are transferred.[35]

In one recent case, a 2-year-old girl diagnosed with herpes encephalitis was initially transferred to Papua New Guinea rather than Australia even though the Papua New Guinean hospital could not perform a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) test under sedation on a child or perform an electroencephalogram (EEG) test, as recommended by IHMS.[36] The former IHMS senior medical officer told the court, “Both the offshore processing Centre on Nauru and the Republic of Nauru Hospital have limited outpatient facilities targeted to children, and have limited resources.  These facilities would be grossly inadequate to treat a child presenting with [the girl’s] clinical history with the early intervention that is required in such cases.”[37]

Some of those interviewed said that they had developed serious medical problems in Nauru and that they had received virtually no specialized medical attention. They had heart and kidney diseases; diabetes accompanied by weight loss and rapidly deteriorating eyesight; and back problems leading to reduced mobility, among other conditions. Parents were particularly critical of services available to women during pregnancy and childbirth and said that newborns suffered from persistent infections and other medical conditions.[38]

Refugees and asylum seekers routinely face neglect by health workers and other service providers who have been hired by the Australian government. They reported that both the IHMS medical staff and Nauru’s hospital often refuse to take their complaints seriously and, in most cases reported to Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, prescribe nothing but painkillers. Refugees and asylum seekers described several instances in which they tried to call an ambulance when their friends or family members needed urgent help, but the hospital refused to send one.[39]

In April 2017, the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee found that:

The department [of Immigration and Border Protection] has ultimate decision making power as the contracting agency, makes final decisions in relation to the provision of specialist and emergency medical treatment, and (largely as a result of its capacity building measures) is the primary source of guidance and expertise to the Government of Nauru in relation to the management of all matters associated with the presence of refugees and asylum seekers.[40]

Human Rights Watch recommends the Committee ask the government of Australia:

  • Can you confirm all children have been safely transferred away from the offshore operations on Nauru?
  • What steps are being taken to ensure durable solutions for the futures of these refugee and asylum-seeking children?
  • Why has the Australian government repeatedly fought legal cases refuting the medical advice of doctors to try and refuse transferring sick children and adults to Australia?
  • Given the well-documented and extensive violations of the right to health for many years for children and families on Nauru, why are these refugee children that have been transferred from Australia still facing inadequate medical care in Australia, especially for mental health conditions?
  • Why are some children transferred to Australia still being held separately from family members, even when it is against the advice of child psychologists and medical professionals?

Human Rights Watch asks the Committee to call upon the government of Australia to:

  • Provide all children and families transferred from Nauru with permanent legal status in Australia, end family separations, and provide adequate and appropriate medical care including psychosocial support given the trauma experienced on Nauru.
  • Immediately end its offshore operations on Nauru and transfer all refugee and asylum seekers to Australia or another appropriate country.
  • In the meantime, until these operations are ended, the Australian government should support the government of Nauru to:

o   Respond effectively to complaints of physical and sexual violence.

o   Provide refugees and asylum seekers with quality medical care, including mental health services, that meets international standards of accessibility, availability, acceptability, and quality.

o   Otherwise improve living conditions for refugees and asylum seekers.

o   Identify appropriate settlement countries for those who are recognized as refugees.

Detention and Abuse in Youth Jails in Australia

Detention of Children (articles 9 and 37)

Approximately 600 children below the age of 14-years-old are locked up in youth detention centers each year in Australia.[41] Of these detained children, indigenous children are 24 times more likely to be in detention than non-indigenous children.[42]

Allegations of abuse and mistreatment in youth detention facilities have been reported for years. Multiple inquiries, including a royal commission into the protection and detention of children in the Northern Territory, established in 2016, have confirmed that Australia is failing to ensure children deprived of their liberty are protected and treated with dignity and humanity.

The royal commission report identified “systemic and shocking failures” in the youth detention centers, and declared them “not fit for accommodating, let alone rehabilitating” the children they lock up.[43] The abuses documented include the disproportionate use of force when restraining children, verbal abuse including racial slurs by guards, deprivation of food and water, and isolation and solitary confinement.[44]

Isolation and Solitary Confinement

Solitary confinement is the isolation of detainees for 22 hours or more a day without any meaningful human contact.[45] Solitary confinement of children, despite international law strictly prohibiting its use, is permitted in every jurisdiction (except for the Northern Territory) in Australia.[46]

Solitary confinement of children should be prohibited because of the risk posed to the emotional, psychological and physical health and wellbeing of children. Children are particularly vulnerable because they are undergoing crucial stages of development socially, psychologically and neurologically and these developmental processes can be interrupted or damaged as a result of isolation.[47]

The royal commission report stated that “there is no question that the law should not permit the kind of isolation suffered by children and young people held in … isolation at … detention centers.”[48]

Age of Criminal Responsibility

The current age of criminal responsibility in Australia is 10-years-old. It is often the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children who come into contact with the justice system at a young age and recent research has found that early contact with the justice system increases the likelihood of poorer outcomes including being held on remand (in custody prior to trial or sentencing) rather than bailed, further offending and potential life-long involvement with the justice system.[49] On the other hand, the royal commission report identified that the vast majority of children who are dealt with outside of the formal criminal justice system do not reoffend.[50] The minimum age should be raised and it should be done in conjunction with measures to ensure children receive appropriate community support directed at addressing risk factors.

Human Rights Watch recommends the Committee ask the government of Australia:

  • What steps have been taken since the findings of the royal commission were published to end the abuse and mistreatment of children in detention?
  • What steps have been taken to ensure the individuals responsible are held accountable, including by bringing criminal charges as appropriate?

Human Rights Watch asks the Committee to call upon the government of Australia to:

  • Enact the commission’s recommendations and commit to a thorough overhaul of the juvenile detention system.
  • Immediately put an end to the harmful practices of the disproportionate use of force, deprivation of food or water, and solitary confinement.
  • Grant the Australian Human Rights Commission immediate and unfettered access to all facilities where children are detained.
  • Raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility, in line with international standards.

Intersex Children

Right to Health (article 24)

Intersex children in Australia are subjected to medically unnecessary and dangerous procedures before they are old enough to provide informed consent.

An estimated 1.7 percent of the global population is born with bodily traits that do not fit conventional notions of female or male – variations in sex characteristics called intersex. Their sex characteristics may differ from what people think of as “normal.” While these variations usually pose no health risk, in the 1960s surgeons in the US popularized “normalizing” operations, such as procedures to reduce the size of the clitoris or remove testes.

But these procedures are not designed to treat a medical problem, and there is no evidence they help children “fit in” or “function in society,” which some surgeons say is their aim. The operations carry high risks of scarring, loss of sexual sensation, incontinence, sterilization, and psychological trauma like that experienced by childhood sexual abuse victims. Some surgeries can sterilize the person and result in the need for lifelong hormone replacement therapy.[51]

Human Rights Watch asks the Committee to call upon the government of Australia to:

  • Pass legislation to ban all surgical procedures that seek to alter the sex characteristics of children too young to participate in the decision, when those procedures both carry a meaningful risk of harm and can be safely deferred. The legislation should provide for the provision of appropriate support services for people who have been subjected to these operations, including access to health care and to social and psychological support.

Education During Armed Conflict

The Protection of Education During Armed Conflict (articles 28, 38 and 39)

Australia has not endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration, an international commitment to protect education in armed conflict.[52] The declaration includes a pledge to use the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict.[53]

When Australia was on the United Nations Security Council in 2014, it voted for Security Council Resolution 2143 (2014), which encourages all countries to consider concrete measures to deter military use of schools. The Australian ambassador to the UN, Gary Quinlan, told the Security Council that using schools for military purposes gravely endangers the lives of children: “We cannot deny generations of children an education through the destruction or misuse of school premises. We must work decisively on that. … We need to do more to protect schools, teachers, and students during conflict. … The child victims around the world count on us.”

Human Rights Watch recommends the Committee ask the government of Australia:

  • What steps has Australia taken in line with Security Council Resolutions 2143 (2014), 2225 (2015), and 2427 (2018) to take concrete measures to deter the military use of schools?

Human Rights Watch asks the Committee to call upon the government of Australia to:

  • Endorse the Safe Schools Declaration, thereby endorsing and committing to use the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use in Armed Conflict.

 

 

 

[1] Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International conducted in-depth interviews with refugees and asylum seekers on Nauru in July 2016. In total, we spoke with 84 refugees and asylum seekers (including nine children) from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Kuwait, Iran, Iraq, and Somalia. See Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, “Appalling Abuse, Neglect of Refugees on Nauru: Investigation on Remote Pacific Island Finds Deliberate Abuse Hidden Behind Wall of Secrecy,” August 2, 2016, https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/08/02/australia-appalling-abuse-neglect-re.... In addition, Human Rights Watch interviewed refugees and asylum seekers by phone and, in the case of refugees and asylum seekers transferred from Nauru to Australia on medical grounds, in person. See, for example, Elaine Pearson (Human Rights Watch), “For Refugees on Nauru, Little Joy on Children’s Day,” Australian Institute of International Affairs, November 19, 2018, https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/11/20/refugees-nauru-little-joy-childrens-day.

[2] Memorandum of Understanding Between the Republic of Nauru and the Commonwealth of Australia, relating to the Transfer to and Assessment of Persons in Nauru and Related Issues, signed August 3, 2013, cl. 10.

[3] See, for example, Human Rights Committee, Concluding Observations: Australia, U.N. Doc. CCPR/C/AUS/CO/6 (December 1, 2017), para. 35; UNHCR, Advisory Opinion on the Extraterritorial Application of Non-Refoulement Obligations under the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol, January 26, 2007, http://www.refworld.org/docid/45f17a1a4.html (accessed November 8, 2018), para. 35. See also ibid., paras. 36-43. For an analysis of effective control, see generally International Law Commission, Draft Articles on Responsibility of States for Internationally Wrongful Acts (2001), arts. 16-18, http://legal.un.org/ilc/texts/instruments/english/commentaries/9_6_2001.pdf (accessed November 10, 2018).

[4] As UNHCR observed with respect to Nauru, “the physical transfer of asylum-seekers from Australia to Nauru, as an arrangement agreed by two 1951 Refugee Convention States, does not extinguish the legal responsibility of the transferring State (Australia) for the protection of the asylum-seekers affected by the arrangements. In short, both Australia and Nauru have shared and joint responsibility to ensure that the treatment of all transferred asylum-seekers is fully compatible with their respective obligations under the 1951 Convention and other applicable international instruments.”  UNHCR, “UNHCR Monitoring Visit to the Republic of Nauru,” October 7-9, 2013, para. 22.

[5] See Katherine Murphy, “‘It Galls Me’: The Doctor Turning the Political Tide on Nauru’s Child Refugee Crisis,” Guardian, October 17, 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/oct/18/it-galls-me-the-doctor-tur... (accessed November 24, 2018); Helen Davidson, “How Australia Finally Started to Care About Asylum Seekers and Refugees on Nauru,” Guardian, October 27, 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2018/oct/27/how-australia-fin... (accessed November 24, 2018).

[6] Biwa Kwan, “Politicians, refugee advocates deliver Nauru petition to PM” SBS News, November 27, 2018, https://www.sbs.com.au/news/kids-off-nauru-petition-to-be-handed-to-the-pm (accessed November 27, 2018)

[7] Davidson and Wallquist, “All Refugee Children to Be Removed from Nauru.”

[8] Katherine Murphy, “The Coalition Is Right to Remove Children from Nauru—But There’s Very Little to Celebrate,” Guardian, November 1, 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2018/nov/01/the-coalition-is-... (accessed November 24, 2018).

[9] See, for example, Incident Report SCA 15.0162, February 22, 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/ng-interactive/2016/aug/10/the... (accessed November 9, 2018); Incident Report SCA 15.0173, February 24, 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/ng-interactive/2016/aug/10/the... (accessed November 9, 2018).

[10] Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, “Appalling Abuse, Neglect of Refugees on Nauru.”

[11] See, for example, Australian Human Rights Commission, The Forgotten Children, p. 188.

[12] See Plaintiff S99/2016 v. Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, [2016] FCA 483; EUB18 v. Minister for Home Affairs, [2018] FCA 1432.

[13] Moss Review, paras. 3.96-3.106.

[14] Ibid, paras. 3.107-3.111.

[15] Incident Report SCA 15.0051, January 15, 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/ng-interactive/2016/aug/10/the... (accessed November 9, 2018).

[16] See, for example, Incident Report SCA 15.0165, February 23, 2015 (a girl’s report that a man had “catched her”; asked what she meant, the girl “demonstrated by pinching herself on the bottom and pointed to her vagina”), http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/ng-interactive/2016/aug/10/the... (accessed November 8, 2018); Incident Report SCA 15.0174, February 25, 2015 (reporting that a man in the camp tried to place a girl on his lap and has also “tried to touch her on the chest and bite her on the cheek on 2 occasions”), http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/ng-interactive/2016/aug/10/the... (accessed November 8, 2018).

[17] “UNHCR appeals to Australia to act and save lives at immediate risk,” UNHCR, October 23, 2018,

 https://www.unhcr.org/en-au/news/press/2018/10/5bcda38b7/unhcr-appeals-a...

[18] Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, “Appalling Abuse, Neglect of Refugees on Nauru.”

[19] See Farrell, Evershed, and Davidson, “The Nauru Files: Cache of 2,000 Leaked Reports Reveal Scale of Abuse of Children in Australian Offshore Detention,” Guardian, August 10, 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2016/aug/10/the-nauru-files-2... (accessed November 8, 2018).

[20] Helen Davidson, “Médecins sans Frontières Calls for Immediate Evacuation of All Refugees on Nauru,” Guardian, October 11, 2018.

[21] Ibid.

[22] FRX17 as Litigation Representative for FRM17 v. Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, [2018] FCA 63, para. 18(a).

[23] AXY18 v. Minister for Home Affairs, [2018] FCA 283, paras. 13-18.

[24] BAF18 as Litigation Representative for BAG18 v. Minister for Home Affairs, [2018] FCA 1060, para. 32.

[25] Ibid., para. 51(i).

[26] DWE18 as Litigation Representative for DWD18 v. Minister for Home Affairs, [2018] FCA 1121, para. 21.

[27] See, for example, Australian Human Rights Commission, “New Report: Experts Reveal Alarming Impact of Detention on Children,” February 4, 2016, https://www.humanrights.gov.au/news/stories/new-report-experts-reveal-al... (accessed November 9, 2018).

[28] See Rebecca de Boer, “Background Note: Health Care for Asylum Seekers on Nauru and Manus Island,” Parliamentary Library, June 28, 2013, http://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliam... (accessed November 9, 2018).

[29] Paul Farrell, “IHMS, the Healthcare Giant at the Heart of Australia’s Asylum System—Explainer,” Guardian, July 20, 2015, https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2015/jul/21/ihms-the-healthca... (accessed November 9, 2018).

[30] Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, “Appalling Abuse, Neglect of Refugees on Nauru.”

[33] See, for example, DWE18 as Litigation Representative for DWD18 v. Minister for Home Affairs, [2018] FCA 1121, para. 25.

[34] Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, “Appalling Abuse, Neglect of Refugees on Nauru.”

[35] Ibid.

[36] DJA18 as Litigation Representative for DIZ18 v. Minister for Home Affairs, [2018] FCA 1050, paras. 29-54.

[37] Ibid., para. 58.

[38] Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, “Appalling Abuse, Neglect of Refugees on Nauru.”

[39] Ibid.

[40] Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee, Serious allegations of abuse, self-harm and neglect of asylum seekers in relation to the Nauru Regional Processing Centre, and any like allegations in relation to the Manus Regional Processing Centre, April 2017, http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Legal_and... (accessed November 8, 2018).

[41] Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) (2017) Youth Justice in Australia 2015-16, AIHW Bulletin no. 139. Cat. AUS 211, supplementary data table S78b, Young people in detention during the year by age, sex and Indigenous, AIHW, Canberra.

[42] Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2018. Youth Justice in Australia 2016–17. Cat. no. JUV 116. Canberra: AIHW, 7-8.

[43] Michael Garcia Bochenek, “Shocking’ Detention of Australia’s Aboriginal Children: Royal Commission Report Needs Swift Action,” https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/11/19/shocking-detention-australias-aborig....

[44] Ibid.

[45] United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (“Mandela Rules”), UN Doc E/CN.15/2015/L.6/Rev.1, rule 44.

[46] Human Rights Law Centre, “Justice for Children: Human Rights Law Centre’s 2018 CROC Shadow Report,” November 1, 2018, https://static1.squarespace.com/static/580025f66b8f5b2dabbe4291/t/5bda4c... (accessed November 27, 2018).

[47] Human Rights Law Centre, “Explainer: Solitary Confinement,” February 8, 2018, https://www.hrlc.org.au/factsheets/2018/2/8/explainer-solitary-confineme... (accessed November 27, 2018).

[48] Commonwealth, Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory, Final Report (November 2017), Volume 1, Chapter 14, p. 332.

[49] Human Rights Law Centre, “Explainer: Raising the Age,” March 20, 2018, https://www.hrlc.org.au/factsheets/2018/2/8/explainer-raising-the-age#_ftn8 (accessed November 27, 2018).

[50] Commonwealth, Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory, Final Report (November 2017), Volume 1, Chapter 27, p. 413.

[51] “Push is on in Australia to End Intersex Abuses: Rights Commission Consultation Exposes Harmful, Unnecessary Medical Practices,” October 25, 2018, https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/10/26/push-australia-end-intersex-abuses.

[52] Safe Schools Declaration, May 28, 2015, https://www.regjeringen.no/globalassets/departementene/ud/vedlegg/utvikl... (accessed November 6, 2018).

[53] Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict, March 18, 2014, http://protectingeducation.org/sites/default/files/documents/guidelines_... (accessed November 6, 2018).

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Russian orphanages where children with disabilities grow up often transfer them to closed state institutions for adults when they reach 18 without their consent. Those who do move into the community often do not receive the support they need to live independently.

In research from five cities in Russia in 2018, Human Rights Watch documented 28 cases in which directors of children’s orphanages forced or coerced children with a range of disabilities into adult institutions once they turned 18. When children turn 18, they are legally adults and have the right to live independently and be included in the community.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Asylum seekers outside their tent in the "Olive Grove", a makeshift camp outside Moria camp on the island of Lesbos on October 31, 2018.

© 2018 Giorgos Moutafis
 (Athens) – The Greek government and its European Union partners should urgently ensure that all asylum seekers on the Aegean islands are transferred to suitable accommodation on the mainland or relocated to other EU countries as winter approaches, 20 human rights and other organizations said today.

Despite the Greek government’s recent efforts to transfer asylum seekers from the islands to more suitable accommodation in the mainland, as of December 3, 2018, over 12,500 people were still living in tents and containers unsuitable for winter in five EU-sponsored camps known as hotspots on Lesbos, Samos, Chios, Kos, and Leros – almost triple their capacity. In addition to serious overcrowding, asylum seekers continue facing unsanitary and unhygienic conditions and physical violence, including violence based on gender.

The lack of basic protection measures leaves women and girls, as well as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT+) people, particularly vulnerable to sexual harassment and assault, and afraid to use site facilities including bathrooms and showers. Medical care, trauma counseling, and psychosocial – or mental health – are insufficient, as is legal counseling and support during the different stages of the asylum procedure. Mental health among asylum seekers has deteriorated amid harsh living conditions and emotional distress.

The humanitarian crisis in the hotspots is the result of Greece’s EU-backed policy of containing asylum seekers on the Aegean islands, until their asylum claims are adjudicated or until it is determined that they fall under one of the “vulnerable” categories listed under Greek law. “Vulnerable” asylum seekers are exempted from the border procedures, and they are allowed to move to the mainland. Greek authorities have periodically accelerated the transfer of “vulnerable” asylum seekers to the mainland but as of late November, an estimated 2,200 people identified as eligible for transfer are still waiting because accommodation facilities on the mainland have similarly become overcrowded during past months, amidst the ongoing lack of an EU-wide responsibility sharing mechanism. Others have fallen through the cracks of lengthy and inefficient vulnerability assessments and are confined to the dire conditions on the islands.

The containment policy was designed and justified as a means to carry out the March 2016 EU-Turkey deal that would return to Turkey asylum seekers who reached the Greek islands by crossing the sea, for their asylum claim to be processed there. The policy imposes unjustified and unnecessary suffering on asylum seekers, while unduly limiting their rights to have their case examined on its merits – as opposed to its “admissibility” – the organizations said.

Speeding up returns, a measure foreseen under the deal, would not solve the crisis on the islands. Many of those trapped on the islands are protected against return and could not be sent back to Turkey, other third countries, or their countries of origin under EU law.

Greece and other EU countries should share responsibility to provide an adequate standard of living for asylum seekers, guaranteeing their subsistence and protecting their physical and mental health throughout a fair and efficient asylum procedure. A recent pledge to move 6,000 asylum seekers to the mainland to provide them with an adequate standard of living is a first step, albeit not one that can ensure sustainability in the long-term.

Greece, with the support of EU institutions and countries, should end its inhumane containment policy and facilitate the transfer of asylum seekers from the Aegean islands. Special care should be given to the needs of children, women survivors of violence, pregnant women and new mothers, and LGBT+ people, among other groups.

European governments should be ready promptly to relocate asylum seekers from Greece and ensure their access to adequate living conditions while their asylum applications are being processed. Portugal’s recent agreement to transfer 100 asylum seekers and potentially up to 1,000 through 2019 is a positive step that other EU countries should follow.

EU governments should follow the lead of the European Parliament in reaching an agreement on a functioning and fairer EU asylum system, which supports Member States, including through a mandatory distribution mechanism; protects people in need; and enables families to reunite in the EU.

The Greek and European authorities should show genuine, humane leadership in addressing the deplorable conditions for the people trapped on the Greek islands. Women, men, and children seeking protection in Europe should be treated in accordance with their rights and not be forced to spend another winter in squalid and unsafe camps.

The Organizations Supporting This Statement:

Amnesty International
ASB - Arbeiter Samariter Bund
Campfire Innovation 
Caritas Hellas
CEAR – Spanish Commission for Refugees
Centre for Research on Women’s Issues – DIOTIMA
Churches Commission for Migrants in Europe
Greek Council for Refugees
Greek Forum of Refugees
Greek Helsinki Monitor
HumanRights360
Human Rights Watch
Jesuit Refugee Service
Legal Centre Lesvos
Medecins Du Monde – Greece
Oxfam
PRAKSIS
Refugee Support Aegean
SolidarityNow
Terre des hommes Hellas

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

“Sofia,” a 17-year-old tobacco worker, in a tobacco field in North Carolina. She started working at 13, and she said her mother was the only one who taught her how to protect herself in the fields: “None of my bosses or contractors or crew leaders have ever told us anything about pesticides and how we can protect ourselves from them….When I worked with my mom, she would take care of me, and she would like always make sure I was okay.…Our bosses don’t give us anything except for our checks. That’s it.”

© 2015 Benedict Evans for Human Rights Watch

More than half of work-related deaths among children in the US occur in agriculture, according to a new US government report published this week. This happens despite the fact that farms employ less than six percent of child workers, highlighting the devastating consequences of weak laws and regulations that don’t properly protect child farmworkers.

The report was prepared by the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) at the request of congressional representatives Lucille Roybal-Allard from California and Rosa DeLauro from Connecticut.

My colleagues and I have interviewed hundreds of child farmworkers in the US in recent years. They’ve told us harrowing stories of working long hours in extreme heat, using sharp tools and heavy machinery, and climbing to dangerous heights with nothing to protect them from falling. Many are exposed to toxic pesticides, and on tobacco farms, children face the added risk of being exposed to nicotine, a neurotoxin.

Under federal labor law, children at the age of 12 can legally work unlimited hours on farms of any size with parental permission, as long as they don’t miss school. There is no minimum age for children to work on small farms or family farms. By law, children working in agriculture can do jobs at age 16 that health and safety experts deem particularly hazardous. In all other sectors, workers must be 18 to do hazardous work.  

The report clearly shows that these gaps in laws designed to protect young workers leave child farmworkers vulnerable to serious injuries and death. The report found that between 2003 and 2016, 237 children died while working in agriculture in the US. That represents more than half of the 452 work-related deaths among children in that period, even though child farmworkers represent only an estimated 5.5 percent of working children. The report estimated more than 4,700 injuries to children working on farms each year, based on data collected in 2012 and 2014.

Many of these children’s injuries and deaths may have been avoided with better workplace protections. But instead of strengthening protections for child workers in the US, the Trump Administration has moved to roll back even the limited regulations that exist to protect child farmworkers from danger.

Since 2001, Representative Roybal-Allard has introduced and reintroduced a bill to afford child farmworkers the same protections as children working in any other sectors, by limiting their working hours and by raising the minimum age for them to begin work. Beginning in January, the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives has an opportunity to act swiftly to address the gaps in US labor law, by affording child farmworkers the same protections as children working in other sectors.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A 13-year-old boy with learning disabilities, who had to leave the European School after it declared itself unable to meet his needs, prepares homework for his new school. 

© 2018 Lea Labaki/Human Rights Watch
(Brussels) – European Schools, a network of 13 intergovernmental schools primarily teaching children of European Union employees, do not do enough to accommodate the needs of children with disabilities, Human Rights Watch and the European Disability Forum said in a joint report released today.

The 22-page report, “‘Sink or Swim’: Barriers for Children with Disabilities in the European School System,” found that while European Schools are paying increasing attention to inclusion, children with disabilities continued to face problems. They are rejected, pressured into changing schools, or are not provided with appropriate accommodations and support to allow them to learn and thrive in an inclusive environment.

“How can EU institutions claim to promote inclusion and diversity, if the needs of children of their own employees aren’t being met?” said Lea Labaki, of the disability rights division at Human Rights Watch. “At the very heart of the European project, the European School system is not providing children with disabilities the fully inclusive education they are entitled to.”

The European Schools’ Board of Governors’ biannual meeting on December 4-7, 2018, will include a discussion of an internal report on inclusive education and an evaluation of the schools’ educational support policy. The board should develop concrete measures to make European Schools inclusive of children with disabilities.

Human Rights Watch documented the cases of 12 children and one young adult with a range of disabilities who were enrolled in the four European Schools in Brussels and one in Luxembourg or whose enrollment application was refused in the last five years. Human Rights Watch interviewed 27 people, including children, parents, school directors, support coordinators, inclusive education experts, the office of the European Ombudsman, officials of the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Human Resources and Security, and the deputy secretary-general of the European Schools.

“While over the years some improvements have been made, the fate of students with disabilities is still concerning,” said Yannis Vardakastanis, president of the European Disability Forum. “We want the European School system to be a great example for Europe, promoting diversity in all its forms, and ensuring inclusive education to all students with disabilities.”

The EU and its 28 member states have ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), which guarantees children with disabilities the right to inclusive education.

Despite states’ obligations under the convention, European Schools allow excluding children with disabilities. Their Policy on the Provision of Educational Support states that “European Schools do not offer a fully inclusive education system…. [T]he school is entitled to declare itself unable to meet the needs of the pupil.”

Nine parents interviewed reported feeling pressured to remove their child from the school. In some cases, parents said, they experienced harassment, with school officials repeatedly calling them in to complain about their child’s behavior or academic performance.

“Louise,” a 15-year-old girl who has dyslexia, left the European School after struggling for years to get basic accommodations for her learning disability, such as the right to use a device to take pictures of the blackboard. “This school was like an anthill, every year they filtered the best to keep only the elite,” she said. “Those who are a little defective, they do everything they can to reject them. They wanted us to feel bad enough to leave on our own.”

Under the UN convention, children with disabilities have a right to individualized support measures and reasonable accommodations in school, including adapted teaching methods, material and program, assistive technology, and alternative examination formats. Parents said that such accommodations were not systematic and depended on the willingness of school staff.

Further, European Schools offer only one curriculum leading to the European Baccalaureate, which cannot be adapted to children with disabilities’ varying needs, strengths, challenges, and learning styles. In one case, the director told the parents of a boy with learning disabilities that he could move on to secondary school, but that he would never be able to catch up and the school would be “limited to a sort of day care.”

The 13 European Schools in Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Spain, the Netherlands, and Italy serve 27,000 children in 20 official EU languages. While there is no data on the number of pupils with disabilities, nearly four percent receive intensive support for “special educational needs,” many of whom have disabilities.

European institutions provide their employees co-funding for the enrollment of children with disabilities in private schools, where fees can be as high as €50,000 a year. The European Commission alone is currently providing such funding to an estimated 70 children for a total budget over €1.5 million, a substantial expenditure of EU funds.

Most parents interviewed said that some teachers and assistants were doing their utmost to help their child and that attitudes were evolving positively.

For these positive experiences to become the norm, the Board of Governors should adopt a policy on inclusive education, develop teacher training, and introduce flexibility in the curriculum, Human Rights Watch and the European Disability Forum said. The European Commission, which provides more than half of the European Schools’ budget, should lead the process and ensure that its funding contributes to an inclusive system.

“Even though European School staff make adjustments, the needs of children with disabilities shouldn’t have to depend on their good will,” Labaki said. “European Schools should make a commitment to inclusive education in policy and practice, and back it up with adequate resources.”
 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am